Anglican leaders face battle over women bishops

|PIC1|The Church of England's governing body faces a bruising battle over consecrating women bishops that could spark a mass exit from the Anglican Church by disgruntled traditionalists.

The issue of the "stained-glass ceiling" stopping women rising up the church ladder ranks with the ordination of gay clergy as one of the most disruptive in the Anglican Church.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, already battling to avoid a schism over conservative anger at the consecration of an openly gay U.S. bishop, faces a delicate balancing act at the latest general synod of the Church of England, which starts on Friday.

Church leaders, faced with defection by up to 1,300 clergy from the traditionalist wing, are pinning their hopes on an elaborate compromise allowing dissenting parishes to stick with male bishops if they wish.

A Church of England spokesman, spelling out the synod timetable, told Reuters: "The discussions will be about whether there should be formal arrangements for those who, in conscience, cannot accept women bishops or whether a code of practice should be adopted."

A vote is due on Monday on the next step at the synod meeting in York. But he stressed that final legislation was not expected before 2012.

If the compromise wins full acceptance after a possible timetable is mapped out, Williams may one day be succeeded by a woman as spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans.

Anglicans in Canada, the United States and New Zealand already have women bishops.

One in six of England's parish priests is a woman and, more than a decade after they were first ordained, liberals say it is insulting not to admit them to positions of power.

Traditionalist say that, as Jesus Christ's apostles were all men, there is no precedent for women bishops.

The bishop of Guildford, Christopher Hill, issued a clear message to the traditionalists on Friday.

"Those who dissent have got to expect that the main part of the Church of England is getting on with this. There is no going back on it," he said.

"I am in favour of it. I have been ordaining women priests while I have been a bishop," Hill told BBC radio.