British campaigner for women bishops to greet pope

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Reverend Jane Hedges was to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to London's Westminster Abbey Friday in a meeting seen as controversial as the Vatican considers female ordination a "crime against the faith".

Hedges, a prominent Church of England figure and campaigner for the ordination of women, is the canon of Westminster and was to greet the leader of the Roman Catholic Church as he arrives.

It is thought to be the first time Benedict will shake hands with a clergywoman in public.

The first female canon steward of Westminster's job is to welcome more than one million visitors and pilgrims each year to the abbey and help them enjoy it as a living church and not just a historical monument.

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.

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.

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.

The meeting comes just 11 months after Benedict sent shockwaves through the Anglican world with an offer to take in dissidents angered by their communion's moves to consecrate female bishops, making it easier to convert.

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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