Bishops of the Episcopal Church today gave a unanimous vote of confidence to the church's presiding bishop, even though he has announced that he would not personally carry out church laws regarding ordination of women.
Presiding Bishop John Maury Allin pledged, however, that he would always make "arrangements" for someone else to perform such ordinations.
For nearly two hours this morning, the House of Bishops pressed Bishop Allin on how his announcement last Friday night that he does not believe women can be priests "any more than they can become fathers or husbands" would affect his role as head of the church.
For Bishop Ervine Swift of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, the question was not simply an academic one. He told Bishop Allin and the House of Bishops that when the Presiding Bishop attends the convocation's annual diocesan meeting in Europe next spring, "it is their hope that you will ordain a woman to the priesthood. What will you do?"
Bishop Allin answered that he would "make provisions for the support of what the church does" and that he would arrange for another bishop to do the ordaining.
Bishop Swift later said privately that he was "bitterly disappointed" at the response and felt that his people would be also.
Bishop Paul Moore Jr. of New York told the assembly of a meeting last Saturday of "a large group of women," both clergy and laity, from the New York City area. "I'd simply be remiss in my duties if I did not express to you the extremely deep hurt" of these women by the assertion that women cannot be priests, he said.
Bishop Moore asked Bishop Allin whether he - Allin - would receive holy communion from women priests.
Instead of replying directly to the question. Bishop Allin said, "I've never had to face that yet." He went on to explain that he had gone public last Friday with his disavowal of women priests in an effort to unite the badly split Episcopal church.
Noting that other bishops and priests agree with him, he said there is "room enough for us to work together and seek the truth . . . I in no way suggested that what the General Convention has done was wrong."
The General Convention is the church's top legislative body. Meeting last year in Minneapolis it voted decisively to drop the church's traditional barrier to women priests.
In responding to a later question, Allin indicated that he would not personally receive holy communion from a woman priests.
Such a priest "can be recognized by the church and the people there (at the communiion service). It doesn't matter whether I recognize her or not," he asserted.
The most dramatic challenge to Allin came from Bishop Robert C. Rusack of Los Angeles. "God forgive me, a sinner," he began, "but I must speak to the hurt inflicted by the presiding bishop last Friday night" in the speech which Rusack said "shocked" him.
"The church has spoken on the question of women priests," Rusack said. "Just as Queen Elizabeth has to speak for a government with which she may not agree, many of my people are asking: "Cannot the presiding bishop support the faithful even as he has those who have left us."
Despite the criticism, the House of Bishops adopted a resolution with no audible dissenting votes, reaffirming Allin's "leadership," and respecting his "right . . . to hold a personal conviction on this issue, trusting him to uphold the law of this church and the decision of General Convention in its official action."
The bishops postponed until Thursday a final decision on whether to censure the Rev. Albert Chambers, 71, a retired bishop who has been serving rebellious parishes that have left the official church over opposition to women priests and other issues.
Bishop Chambers, who retired five years ago from the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., has been charged with "invasion" of several dioceses against the orders of recognized bishops of those jurisdictions.