Page last updated at 06:30 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 07:30 UK

Church vote backs women bishops

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams said he wanted to accommodate traditionalists

The Church of England's ruling General Synod has voted to consecrate women as bishops and approved drawing up a code of practice to reassure opponents.

A Church group will now draw up a draft of the code to put before the Synod next February.

However, it will not include safeguards demanded by traditionalists, such as allowing male "super-bishops" to cater for those opposing the change.

Liberals said such moves would have created a two-tier episcopacy.

Some 1,300 clergy opposed to consecrating women as bishops had threatened to leave the Church if the safeguards they wanted were not agreed.

The Venerable Christine Hardman and the Right Reverend John Broadhurst react

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

The pressure group Women in the Church had said any compromise allowing traditionalists to go to super-bishops instead of female bishops would create second-class clergy and institutionalise division.

Following six hours of debate on Monday, which saw one bishop in tears, the Synod rejected both the super-bishops proposal and the traditionalists' preferred option of new dioceses for objectors.

If there isn't proper provision for us to live in dignity, inevitably we're driven out
The Right Reverend John Broadhurst
Bishop of Fulham

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the vote had been conclusive and was accompanied by emotional scenes.

But traditionalists have warned that the decision could hasten the prospect of a split within the Church.


During the debate at the University of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said he would be in favour of "a more rather than a less robust" form of accommodating traditionalists.

He added: "I am deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends up, as it were, structurally humiliating women who might be nominated to the episcopate."

It is very good for the Church and very good for women and also good for the whole nation
Christina Rees
Women and the Church

Tory MP and Synod member Robert Key, who supported the reforms, said afterwards it was time for the Church to move beyond "navel-gazing".

He added: "It is a good day for the Church of England, and it is a good day for the country because our national church, the church by law established, is actually now in step with most of the country and what people feel."

Synod member and traditionalist Gerry O'Brien was hissed during the debate as he alluded to the American and Canadian Churches, from whom traditionalists have split in protest at the ordination of an openly gay bishop in 2003.

Mr O'Brien said: "We can force people out of the Church of England but I think the experience in America says you can't force people out of the Anglican Communion, because there are a lot of archbishops elsewhere in the world who will be more than ready to provide the support."

Jenny Standage, Secretary of WATCH (Women and the Church) and Colin Coward
Campaigners for women bishops have welcomed the decision

The Bishop of Fulham, the Right Reverend John Broadhurst, who is a traditionalist, told Newsnight that the vote could lead to a split.

"I think a lot of us have made it quite clear if there isn't proper provision for us to live in dignity, inevitably we're driven out," he said.

"It's not a case of walking away."

Christina Rees, chairwoman of Women and the Church, which supports female ordination, said she welcomed the decision.

She added: "It is very good for the Church and very good for women and also good for the whole nation."

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

The Episcopal Church in Scotland has already cleared the way for ordaining women bishops, as have churches in America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

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