Church of England returns to women bishops debate

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The Church of England General Synod is meeting for the first time since legislation to allow women bishops was narrowly defeated in the Church of England General Synod in November

The Church of England's parliamentary body is revisiting the thorny issue of allowing women into the episcopate.

It is the first time General Synod is debating the issue since draft legislation was narrowly defeated at the end of an emotional debate last November.

The legislation's defeat came in spite of a majority of Synod members backing the measure.

Synod members will spend Saturday in closed-door meetings discussing the question of allowing women bishops. Members of Synod will be meeting in 24 groups of 20 in the company of a trained facilitator who will help them reflect on the issues.

A majority of people in the Church of England support women bishops.

Synod members have until 10am on Sunday morning to table amendments to a motion from the House of Bishops on women bishops to be debated on Monday morning.

The motion proposes that fresh legislation to allow women bishops be drawn up in time for debate at the next meeting of Synod in London in November.

The earliest possible date for General Synod to give its final approval to the draft legislation is July 2015.

In his inaugural speech to the General Synod as Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby said it was clear that there was a "very significant absence of trust" not only between differing groups in the Church but also towards the bishops.

The Archbishop urged the Church to go forward together "without hating each other".

Pro-women bishops group Women And The Church (WATCH) said it was "very encouraged" by the first stages of the new process so far, which has seen a series of meetings between bishops and senior female clergy since November.

"The bishops have indicated that they want to see simple legislation that is unequivocal about women being priests and bishops on the same terms as men. WATCH sincerely hopes that General Synod will endorse this approach and allow the Church to move forward on the issue when it meets next month," the group said in a statement.

Evangelicals fear they may be barred from parish ministry as a result of the proposals on the table.

The Reform network said the new proposals will not allow those on both sides of the debate to flourish in the Church of England.

Chairman Prebendary Rod Thomas gave a cautious welcome to provisions for opponents and proposals for a clear process to resolve disputes.

However, he said clergy who believe in male headship would not be able to take vows of canonical obedience to female bishops "and this would effectively prevent them from undertaking much parish ministry".

He added that proposals to remove provisions allowing parishes to request the appointment of male priests could leave evangelicals "vulnerable to legal challenge under equality legislation in the future".

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