Australia’s first woman diocesan bishop, Dr Sarah Macneil, has been consecrated and installed in the Diocese of Grafton in northern New South Wales.
Dr Macneil, 59, a former Dean of Adelaide and a diplomat before ordination, moved from the Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn to her new role. She becomes bishop as the Diocese celebrates its centenary, but also as it recovers from the shame of mishandled allegations of sexual abuse at a children’s home.
Its last bishop, Keith Slater, resigned last year after the mishandling came to light. The allegations have been the subject of close scrutiny at a public hearing by the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Dr Macneil is Australia’s fifth woman bishop. The other four – assistant bishops in the dioceses of Perth, Melbourne, Canberra & Goulburn and Brisbane – vested Dr Macneil in her cope and mitre during the service. Australia’s first women bishops – Kay Goldsworthy in Perth and Barbara Darling in Melbourne – were consecrated in 2008. Bishop Darling’s plans to retire early next year were announced last week.
Four of Australia’s 23 dioceses do not ordain women as priests: the Evangelical dioceses of Armidale, North-West Australia, and Sydney, and the traditionalist diocese of The Murray. The Murray does not ordain women as deacons either. Women priests constitute 20 per cent of Australian priests overall, and one quarter of the total number of priests in dioceses that do ordain women.
The chief consecrator at Saturday’s service was the Bishop of Canberra & Goulburn, Stuart Robinson, instead of the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies. Normally as Metropolitan of the province of New South Wales, Dr Davies would be expected to take that role. Given his diocese’s opposition to women as priests and bishops, however, Dr Davies asked Bishop Robinson to take his place, though he sent a warm letter of greeting, which was read at the service.
Dr Macneil is married to a priest, the Revd Ian Chaplin.