Church of England drives forward with women bishops

The Church of England has published new proposals to enable women to become bishops.

The Women in the Episcopate report sets out a timetable for the legislative process to be wrapped up by November 2015.

It comes after the defeat of draft legislation on women bishops at the General Synod last year despite a majority voting in favour. There were emotional scenes after the legislation fell because it could not obtain the necessary two-thirds majority in each of the three houses.

The new proposals contain four options to be considered at the July General Synod in York. There are also provisions for traditionalists who cannot in conscience accept women bishops.

The House of Bishops is hoping that debates on the new legislation will be held at the November meeting of the General Synod.

The proposals follow a series of crisis talks by the House of Bishops to find a new way forward for the introduction of women to the episcopate, a move which has majority support across the Church of England.

A Working Group on women bishops established by the House of Bishops warned that there was a risk of Parliament intervening if the Church of England did not move quickly to resolve the crisis.

"The present situation is unsustainable and needs to be resolved as early as is practicable for the good of the whole Church of England," its report said.

"Parliament is impatient. None of us on the Working Group believes Parliament should impose a solution on the Church of England but the risk of this will grow unless the Synod can show that it can make progress, and quickly."

The Working Group said it would be "intolerable not to start a fresh legislative process as soon as possible so that final approval can be achieved in 2015".

To stay on track for 2015, the group said the legislation going out to the dioceses in 2014 should be as simple as possible.

"[It] must be in a form that is likely to command the support of the majority of dioceses and will not be such as to give rise to the possibility of the substance of the proposals embodied in it being changed later by the House of Bishops."

The debate on the proposals in York has been scheduled for Monday 8 July. The Church of England said a "substantial amount of time" would be spent on the Saturday before in "facilitated conversations" allowing Synod members to explore the options on offer.

The Chair of the Working Group, the Right Reverend Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: "Given this range of views it is essential to be clear on whether the Church of England is still willing to leave space for those who dissent from its decision. We have approached our task on the basis that the Church of England is so willing.

"To expect unanimity on where the limits of diversity should be drawn may be unrealistic, given the variety of strongly held views which exist and are maintained with integrity.

"Nevertheless it is necessary to see whether there might be an approach which could command a sufficiently wide measure of assent to enable progress to be made.

"We are perhaps at a moment when the only way forward is one which makes it difficult for anyone to claim outright victory."