Page last updated at 23:47 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 00:47 UK

Q&A: Vote over women bishops

The divisive issue of the conditions under which women should be consecrated as bishops has been voted on by the Church of England's ruling body, the General Synod.

The Synod backed a motion calling for a national code of practice to accommodate parishes that cannot accept women bishops, but rejected safeguards demanded by traditionalists.

What was the vote on women bishops by the Synod in York about?

The Church's ruling body, the Synod, had already agreed in principle to ordain women as bishops, but the vote confirmed that and was also about the conditions under which they could be consecrated.

Kay Goldsworthy (L) and the Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, at the consecration service for her ordination as Australia's first Anglican bishop
Opinion remains divided on the merits of women bishops

Synod members considered what concessions should be made to opponents of women bishops and if, for example, opponents should be allowed to opt to remain under the ministry of male bishops.

Those against concessions say this would have made women who were ordained "second-rate bishops".

They argue that since any decision would have to be ratified by Parliament, such concessions would be rejected as discriminatory.

Traditionalists, who say their religious consciences will not allow them to serve under women bishops, fear a man ordained by a woman may not be properly ordained.

What was decided by the Synod?

Proposals to create "super-bishops" who would cater for opponents of women bishops were rejected, as was the preferred option of traditionalists - new dioceses for objectors.

Instead, a Church group will draw up the first draft of a code of practice to accommodate conservatives, to be ready by the time the Synod meets in February 2009.

But BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Piggot said the detail of these safeguards were as yet unspecified.

What is the significance of letters sent by clergy on women bishops?

More than 1,000 clergy wrote a letter to the archbishops of Canterbury and York, in which they threatened to leave the Church if safeguards were not agreed on the issue of women bishops, to reassure traditionalists.

About a third of those who signed the letter were retired. The letter shows a substantial minority are concerned about the issue.

But in contrast 4,000 Anglicans - more than half of them clergy - wrote their own letter arguing any concessions for traditionalists would directly undermine the status of women bishops, in a way that would be discriminatory.

They would rather wait for women bishops than have concessions that would undermine their status.

How important are women already within the Church of England?

In recent years more than half of the people training for the Anglican priesthood have been women.

A quarter of serving Anglican priests are women, including two deans of the cathedrals in Leicester and Salisbury and several archdeacons.

Several other Churches worldwide, including Churches in America, Canada, New Zealand and more recently Australia have ordained women as bishops.

The Episcopal Church in Scotland has also cleared the way for ordaining women bishops.

What are the other issues are dividing the Anglican Communion?

The vote over women bishops comes after rifts within the Church over its teaching on homosexuality.

These centre on how Anglicans should interpret the Bible, for example, whether it should be read as classing active homosexuality as a sin.

Events such as the ordination of the openly gay - and non-celibate - Bishop of New Hampshire, the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, in 2003, split the Church, with traditionalists calling for a reassertion of the "authority of the Bible".

A worldwide movement of Anglicans, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, said earlier this month it might intervene in Churches, including the Church of England, to combat liberal approaches to sexuality.

It has promised to set up a council of bishops to help restore order within the worldwide Anglican Church.

Last week it published the so-called "Jerusalem Declaration" calling for a return to Church teachings based on the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

What is the significance of women bishops to the unity of the Anglican Communion?

While the issue of women bishops divides opinion within the Church of England, it does not threaten to split the Anglican Communion in the same way as the issue of homosexuality.

There are varying views on the issue of women bishops within liberal and conservative opinion, and it does not have the same international connotations as the issue of homosexuality.

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