Bernard Ingham: Nothing to prevent Church’s final leap of faith in women

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LIKE troubles, Les Grands Départs never come singly in Yorkshire. After last weekend’s Tour de France cycle-fest, the county is likely to stage an even more momentous event next Monday.

I refer to the expectation that the Church of England Synod, meeting in York, will at last sanction the consecration of women bishops. Nobody can deny that would be a grand departure. After all, they approved women priests 20 years ago. What have they been waiting for?

The truth, I suppose, is to secure the maximum reconciliation within the Anglican community, even though it already has 20 active women bishops worldwide.

We even have one in the British Isles – Pat Storey, the Derry rector who was appointed Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare in March.

The prospect of more is thought to be good because two dioceses – London and Chichester – that failed to endorse women bishops in 2012 have now come round.

You may be surprised that this old “curmudgeon” – as The Yorkshire Post has been known to promote me – views this next grand départ with equanimity.

Frankly, it is overdue and I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

Having worked for the two leading women politicians of the 20th century – Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher – I have been purged of misogyny and the concept of male superiority, and thoroughly put in my place.

Sometimes I wonder how any glass ceiling can remain in this sceptred isle. On the other hand, I marvel that we have got as far as we have in liberating girls to blossom as they will.

There is an entirely rational explanation. It is not solely down to the natural arrogance and generally superior physical strength of the mere male. He certainly feels less secure as women rise.

But women also object to their sisters getting on. For years, Tory women in the constituencies have been blamed for the party’s relatively poor return of women MPs.

So, for all the emancipation of women, at least in the West, the world is still essentially a male chauvinist piggery. Ask the average woman MP at Westminster.

Fundamentally, it is biological: the view held not just by men that woman’s role in society is that of homemaker and child-bearer and rearer and she cannot properly do two jobs – one mother and the other professional. But it is overlaid by economics. Many see child bearing as interfering with work, limiting careers and with family as well as employer suffering.

It is summed up by the saying to which many women seem to subscribe: “You can’t have it all.”

None of this is going to go away any more than are gifted girls where societies allow them to develop their talents.

From my observation it means that women who rise to the top work twice as hard as men.

That applied as much to Barbara Castle, who had no children, as to Margaret Thatcher who had twins.

They may have put men off with 
their passionate and insistent argument (Castle) or their the ill-concealed view which spirited combat brought out that men were inferior beings (Thatcher). “If you want anything done, ask a woman”, was Thatcher’s view. But, by Jove, nobody could fault their application.

It follows from all this that being a woman bishop – if the CofE manages to get that far next week – will be no sinecure. This is because what opposition to them is left is ecclesiastical.

Anglo Catholics revere tradition and ritual and fear discouraging union with the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelicals cite the Bible’s authority for male leadership. And conservatives consider that theologically women bishops ordaining priests is quite simply unacceptable.

For me – not an Anglican, I may 
say – some of this sadly reminds me 
of the Muslim fanatics’ determination 
to keep half the human race in subjection. That, by any standards, is unacceptable.

There has been no excuse for the suppression of women since Boadicea or at the very latest Good Queen Bess. We know their capabilities.

There is even less excuse for keeping them half in a caring profession – as the church ministry is par excellence – by having them toil in the parishes but never to take their experience to the bench of bishops.

There is one other sobering thought which may have played a part in Thatcher’s election as our first Prime Minister.

Voters may well have thought that she could do no worse than the men. She did better. Stand by for another grand départ on Monday.