Pope shakes hands with Anglican clergywoman

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI publicly shook hands with a clergywoman for the first time Friday in a historic gesture.

The Roman Catholic leader grasped the hand of Reverend Jane Hedges, a prominent Church of England figure and campaigner for the ordination of women, as he arrived at Westminster Abbey in London on the second day of his state visit to Britain.

The Vatican publicy states that female ordination is a "crime against the faith" and the pope sparked controversy last year by offering Anglicans angry at the ordination of women priests a fast-track conversion to Catholicism.

Hedges is Westminster Abbey's canon steward and the first woman to hold the post.

Her job is to welcome more than one million visitors and pilgrims each year to the abbey -- the heart of Anglicanism -- and help them enjoy it as a living church and not just a historical monument.

Though female Anglican bishops have been ordained in North America and Australasia, Hedges could be in line to become Britain's first female bishop if the Church of England decides to permit their ordination.

Hedges has campaigned for the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England. The faith's first female priests were ordained in 1994, a move which triggered an exodus of more than 400 traditionalists.

The ordination of women as Roman Catholic priests is a "crime against the faith," the Vatican said in new disciplinary rules issued in July.

Attempts at ordaining women were put among the "most serious crimes".

Although the Anglican Church allows the ordination of women priests, the ordination of women bishops continues to be hotly debated.

Hedges is used to meeting important dignitaries. She has met Queen Elizabeth II, former British prime minister Gordon Brown and lawmakers.

© 2010 AFP

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