UK & World News

  • 20 November 2012, 9:45

Women Bishops: Church Of England To Vote

The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury is preparing to throw his support behind the ordination of women bishops to help bring an end to an issue that has deeply divided the Church of England for decades.

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, will later call for "unity" in an address to the General Synod as it prepares to vote on whether to allow women bishops.

He was given prolonged applause as he was introduced to the Synod on Monday as their next Church leader.

Today, he will tell members he is "deeply committed" to the ordination of women to the episcopate.

The vote has been billed as the biggest decision the Synod has taken in the 20 years since it first backed the introduction of women priests.

The legislation needs a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod - of bishops, clergy and laity - in order to gain final approval.

Most believe it will clear the houses of bishops and clergy, but the vote among lay members is likely to be very close.

A vote against would not only be a blow to the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury. The outgoing Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, also staked his authority on a Yes vote in a campaign launched last month.

Dr Williams warned that a failure to approve women bishops could be embarrassing for the Church and lead to "a period of continued and perhaps intensified internal conflict".

The vote comes after years of tortuous negotiations within the Church of England over how to introduce female bishops in the face of protests from traditionalists.

The first women priests were ordained in 1994 and the Church gave its backing to the principle of women bishops in 2005.

The legislation has now received the backing of 42 out of the 44 Church of England dioceses.

Around a third of Church of England clergy are women and just under half of those training for ordination are female.

Some church members gathered for a late-night vigil at Westminster Abbey on Monday, ahead of the debate and vote.

It was a chance for both sides to come together in prayer - but away from the quiet reflection, the arguments are well rehearsed.

For some Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelists, the prospect of women bishops is an abomination.

They reject the compromise deal, where a woman bishop, acting according to a code of practice, would delegate to a stand-in male bishop to minister to objector parishes.

Even for some pro-women campaigners, that compromise is seen as a fudge that undermines their legitimacy.

The issue is more nuanced than simply one of equality, but the feelings on both sides run deep.

A final vote on approval for the legislation was postponed in July, with the Church of England bishops asked to reconsider a last-minute amendment amid protests from pro-women campaigners.

The amendment has been rewritten and the debate is likely to centre on whether this is acceptable.

If the legislation clears the final hurdle, it will go for approval in Parliament before receiving royal assent, paving the way for the first female bishops in 2014.

If the legislation is rejected, it may be up to seven years before it can be properly debated and voted on again.

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