Historic vote on C of E women bishops hangs in the balance

Nov 19, 2012

The new Archbishop of Canterbury supports them, but female bishops face one more hurdle

WOMEN will gain the right to become bishops if a draft measure supporting their introduction is supported by a historic Church of England Synod vote on Tuesday.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury and his successor, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, both support the move as do the majority of Church members. But the push to install the first female bishops by 2014 may yet be derailed - not by the clergy themselves, but by conservative lay members of the Church, says the BBC.

Pressure is mounting on the 470-member Synod meeting at Church House, London, to pass tomorrow's draft measure which would then go to the Houses of Parliament for approval. A letter signed by more than 1,000 influential Church of England members published in The Independent today says a vote in favour of women bishops would "show clearly” the Church has turned its back on sexist traditions.

"Just as the Churches have repented of our historic anti-Semitism and endorsement of slavery, so we believe that we must now show clearly that we no longer believe women to be inferior to men," the letter says.

The introduction of women bishops has been the source of internal wrangling since the General Synod first backed the ordination of women priests 20 years ago. Welby is expected to make a personal plea in favour of the draft measure during tomorrow's debate, so the vote could be "one of the most decisive interventions of his leadership – even before he takes over as Archbishop,” The Daily Telegraph says.

The decision of the General Synod is by no means assured. A letter to The Times last Friday, opposing the draft measure, was signed by more than 300 clerics as well as the chairmen of the evangelical groups Reform and the Catholic Group.

"Future ministries would be severely prejudiced” if the General Synod approves the draft measure, the letter said.

Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, says he is voting against the measure and told The Independent on Sunday he thinks it will be a "knife-edge vote”.

The draft measure must get a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod to succeed. It is likely to pass in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, whose members are all serving ministers, but in the conservative House of Laity – made up of ordinary lay members – it may well founder.

Frances Ward, the Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral and one of the most senior women in the Church, told the BBC she is impatient for change.
"The time now is right and we really do need to take this step. Our credibility will be shot through if we don't pass this," she said.

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