Women bishops: Church of England votes yes

Jul 14, 2014

The General Synod has voted today to allow the creation of women bishops

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Church of England's General Synod has voted to allow the creation of women bishops, bringing to an end one of the Church's longest-running controversies.

Formal moves towards the ordination of women began four decades ago and the Church of England decided that women could be priests more than 20 years ago. But the prospect of women bishops has proved a more controversial idea, with traditionalists bitterly opposed.

What is the significance of the vote?

The immediate consequence is that the Church of England has avoided a bruising battle in which it could have had women bishops imposed upon it from outside. Before the vote, the Daily Telegraph speculated that bishops in the House of Lords could have tabled a bill to force the matter, or they might have dissolved the current  Synod and started afresh. Either method would have been highly contentious and could have left the Church divided for years to come.

As well as marking a milestone on the wider issue of women's rights, the introduction of women bishops will alter the leadership profile of the Church of England, which is central to many state occasions and local ceremonies. It will also bolster the efforts of those who are starting to call for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, which would have consequences of its own.

Why do some in the Church oppose women bishops?

Opponents believe that women should never be in a position of authority over men in the Church. Some also point out that Jesus Christ's disciples were all men. However, supporters of female bishops reject both arguments and also cite polls indicating a clear majority of Church of England members support women bishops.

Wasn't the matter closed a few years ago?

In November 2012, legislation to open the episcopate to women collapsed at the final hurdle, despite overwhelming support for it in the Church as a whole. It was backed by almost three quarters of the Synod, but it failed to pass because it fell just six votes short of the required majority among lay members.

How did it get back on the agenda so quickly?

After the 2012 failure, MPs threatened to impose women bishops by force using equality legislation. That was enough to persuade the Synod into keeping the proposal on the agenda and to conjure a semblance of common ground.

Both sides broadly accepted that a compromise had to be reached in order to hold the Church together. However, as the BBC reported, this led to a stand-off in which opponents demanded a series of safeguards, while supporters claimed that the caveats would leave women bishops with diminished authority.

Sign up for our daily newsletter