ST. CHARLES, ILL. -- Bishops of the Episcopal Church have strongly reaffirmed their support for the consecration of women bishops, while taking steps to make peace with a small minority who vigorously oppose such a move.
Following four hours' debate over two days, the bishops on Tuesday approved, by a vote of 113 to 17, a 36-page report from their Committee to Study Women in the Episcopate. The episcopate is the governing structure of the church.
Authors of the report recommended unanimously "that this church proceed to ordain women as bishops as soon as they are duly elected and approved. They said they "do not believe that by this action our church will depart from 'any essential part of doctrine, discipline or worship' held by churches in the Anglican Communion."
Their report urged Episcopalians to "work assiduously to avoid any division or dissension which such action might cause within this church, within our communion or within the wider church of Christ."
Some observers predict that the Anglican Communion's first woman bishop will be elected within the next five years, probably in the United States.
At least three of the 17 bishops who voted "no" said they did not oppose the consecration of women bishops but objected to some elements of the process by which the report was produced. The eight-member committee that wrote the document, headed by Bishop Edward Jones of Indianapolis, included only supporters of women's ordination.
In response to complaints from critics, the House of Bishops passed an amendment specifying that a minority report, to be drafted by opponents of women bishops, will be added to the document's final form. Jones said his committee also will write a new preamble "to make clear that all of us are not on agreement in this matter."
The report is to be sent to dioceses and to the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade meeting of the world's Anglican bishops, which meets next summer in Canterbury, England.
The bishops rejected a move to send the report back for revision and to delay action until the church's 1988 General Convention in Detroit, shortly before the Lambeth meeting.
During floor debate, opponents of women bishops argued that their exclusion from the report-writing process was unfair.
"A grievous error has been inadvertently committed," said Bishop William Wantland of Eau Claire, Wis., a leader of the anti-women's ordination forces in the House of Bishops. "A committee that represents only one viewpoint and never has input from those in the minority cannot but give the impression of something very seriously wrong."
Bishop Wantland, who is part Seminole, compared the attitude toward the House of Bishops' conservative minority to U.S. society's treatment of Native Americans.
"We see the same kind of patronizing elitism, presuming to speak for others without asking them what they think," he said. "It is a tragedy, and it creates distrust, lack of sharing and a spiritual ghetto."
Bishop Donald Parsons of Quincy, Ill., objected that the Jones committee report, which includes a rationale for the Episcopal Church's acceptance of women clergy, "gives the impression that everything is relatively serene. That really isn't so," he said, referring to the continuing dissension in the church over the issue.
The Jones report is made up of three sections: "Factors in the 1976 Decision to Ordain Women to All Three Orders of Ministry," "Factors in the Recommendation to Ordain Women as Bishops Now" and "Our Concern for Those Who Disagree."
The report contends that the unity of the church will be enhanced by the consecration of women to the episcopacy, although many of the worldwide Anglican Communion's national provinces do not yet accept women as clergy.
"If the episcopate should forever be a sign to the world of subordination of women to men within the church, it would be forever a sign of disunity and not of the eschatological unity of the people of God," the report said.
In situations where women are ordained but some church members do not accept them as priests or bishops, "there is bound to be pain," the document said.