Page last updated at 08:39 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 09:39 UK

Synod set for women bishops vote

Dr Rowan Williams at the Synod
Dr Rowan Williams has appealed to both sides of the debate

The Church of England's ruling body, the General Synod, will vote later on the conditions under which women could be consecrated as bishops.

The York meeting will decide whether to accommodate opponents to women bishops and if they could opt to remain under the ministry of male bishops instead.

But women in the Church have said such a move would institutionalise division.

Some 1,300 clergy have threatened to leave the Church if safeguards are not agreed to reassure traditionalists.

They made the threat in a letter to the archbishops of Canterbury and York, but critics say many of the signatories are retired rather than serving clergy.

The General Synod has been urged by the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, not to "simply to kick the whole thing into touch" amid fears about division.

The bishop, who headed a report into the possible options open to the Church over the consecration of women bishops, said there were dangers in further delay.

The first women were ordained as priests in the Church of England in 1994.

'Super bishop'

The Synod will be asked whether to back a motion calling for a national code of practice to accommodate parishes which cannot accept women bishops.

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The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, will attempt to amend the motion by putting forward proposals for work on two possible ways forward.

One would be for a national code - but the other would be to explore the creation of a new class of "super bishop" called a "complementary bishop" to cater for objectors.

Under the proposals put by the Rt Rev Packer, there would be three "super bishops" - one for the York province and two for Canterbury.

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One signatory to the clergy's letter, Father Robert Fayers, said while men and women were equal in the eyes of God, he would have some "hard decisions to make" if the Church voted to allow women bishops.

"The Church of England is part of the universal church - we call it one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

"Unless the whole Church makes the change... then I don't think the Church of England... has got the competence or the right or the authority to make the change," he said.

Good behaviour code

Dean of Southwark Colin Slee said the Synod could back a voluntary code of practice about tolerance towards those who do not want to see women ordained bishop.

But he added: "I don't think we should go any further because what it does is institutionalise division, which is then there for generations to come."

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said both sides of the debate privately conceded a compromise seemed likely.

In his Sunday sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Jesus would feel the pain on both sides of the divide in the Church of England over women bishops and gay priests.




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