New female bishop for Canberra and Goulburn

A woman is to become a Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, breaking new ground for the Anglican church.

The new bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Carol Wagner

The new bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Carol Wagner

Carol Wagner is to be the assistant bishop to the existing head of the diocese.

Her appointment was welcomed by campaigners for the rights of women in the church as well as by the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, the Right Reverend Dr Mark Short, who will be the senior bishop in the diocese.

Archdeacon Carol Wagner (as she now is before the promotion is formalised) said she "regretted" that the ACT government had decided to abolish chaplains in schools in its area.

"There's a drive to push any whisper of Christian teaching out of schools," she said. "Chaplaincy is seen as being an intrusion."

There's a drive to push any whisper of Christian teaching out of schools. Chaplaincy is seen as being an intrusion.

Archdeacon Carol Wagner

In March, the ACT's Education Minister, Yvette Berry, said religious chaplains were incompatible with the secular operation of public schools so the ACT would no longer accept federal funding for the positions.

Instead, existing Christian chaplains in ACT schools would be turned into secular youth-workers at the territory's expense.

A "save our school chaplains" campaign has just been begun.

Archdeacon Wagner views with dismay what she calls the "chasm" between entrenched views on both sides of a wider debate between secular groups and religious people. "The intolerance is on both sides," she said.

At the moment, the federal government is trying pass a "Religious Discrimination Bill" into law. The aim is to protect the right of people with strong religious beliefs (not necessarily only Christian beliefs) to voice those beliefs, repellent though they might be to some people.

Archdeacon Wagner said, "I hope that the laws which emerge will be fair and equitable for both religious and non religious people."

She currently ministers as Archdeacon of the South Coast and Rector of the Parish of Bodalla-Narooma, part of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

Sixty-five-year-old Carol Wagner only turned to studying theology in her 40s after running a business with her husband giving children music lessons from a mobile classroom.

When they sold the business, it employed 23 staff and had 900 families as clients.

She thinks having a woman as an assistant bishop is a big deal because of the conservative history of the church. "The church has been dragging the chain but we have an increasing awareness of gender equality," she said.

"God created people equally," she said. "It's a recognition that God gives gifts to all." The appointment of women as priests "enriches the church".

She refers to God as He but does not think "He" has a gender.

She has known tragedy. Her daughter died at the age of 21 from a rare illness. "I cling to God because He give me hope and a family which gathers around. It's the best place to be when you are grieving," she said.

Archdeacon Wagner will become Bishop Wagner at a service in St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn in February.