A bizarre dilemma over ordaining women priests has developed in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, where final ordination has been withheld from two women deacons for more than a year by the repeated refusal of the majority of the diocesan standing committee to vote on the matter.
The women were ordained as deacons, normally the last step on the way to priesthood, more than a year ago, and have fulfilled all the canonical requirements for priestly ordination except for the recommendation of the standing committee.
Three times the applications of the two women have come before the committee, whose function is to advise the bishop, and it has failed to act. Five members of the eight-person committee have abstained from voting, thereby precluding the possibility of a majority vote. The three who did vote favored ordaining the women.
The five who abstained have steadfastly refused to give any reason for their action. Diocesan Bishop Robert C. Witcher, who is recovering from heart surgery, is known to oppose ordaining women, leading to speculation that the committee members may be acting at his behest.
The diocesan convention, at its Feb. 16 meeting, called on the committee to either approve the applications or specify its reasons for refusing to do so. The committee's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.
Several hundred women have been ordained to the Episcopal priesthood since the national church approved that step 10 years ago.