By Solange De Santis, August 01, 2008

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] The 2008 Lambeth Conference is the second of the decennial meetings to include female bishops and several of them said the welcome is warmer, but that they wish more consideration were given to women’s issues.

Out of the 670 bishops attending, 18 are female, compared to 11 in 1998. The communion’s first female primate, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, is attending her first Lambeth Conference, having been elected bishop of the Diocese of Nevada in 2001. She was elected presiding bishop in June 2006.

Nine days before the conference began on July 16 (it ends August 3), the Church of England’s governing synod voted to bring forward legislation that would allow the consecration of women to the episcopate. The question of accommodating those who cannot accept women in that role was vigorously debated. A proposal that male “super bishops” be allowed to oversee dissenting parishes was defeated and a “code of practice” approved for dissenters but theological traditionalists said it was too weak.

Four provinces in the communion have elected female bishops: the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Liberals believe there is nothing in the Bible that bars women from ordained leadership and the church needs to use the gifts of all its members, while traditionalists point to Jesus and the disciples as males and ask why thousands of years of tradition should be changed.

While women bishops attending Lambeth are certainly passionate about the roles of women in the church, they also point out that the sexuality issues that have roiled the Anglican church are not focusing enough on many life-and-death concerns that mainly affect women.

“I have an ongoing concern that ‘human sexuality’ is a euphemism for focusing on male homosexuality without discussing sexuality issues that affect the reality of women’s lives. For instance, the sex trafficking of women and girls, female genital mutilation, the taking of child brides and the terrible problems for girls who bear children,” said Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam of New York.

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