Church of England moves forward with plans for women bishops

Plans for women bishops in the Church of England will move to the revision stage after a vote in the General Synod today.

After more than two hours of debate, Synod voted to send draft legislation on the consecration of women bishops and a Code of Practice to a revision committee.

A group led by the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, drew up the proposals following an emotional debate in Synod last July in which members voted down a number of legal safeguards for traditionalists unable to accept the ministry of women.

Bishop McCulloch said it would be “tragic” if the Church of England fell at the first hurdle in seeing women ordained to the episcopate.

Not passing the motion, he added, would "certainly mean that the prospect of women bishops would recede by several years".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told Synod he supported women bishops and that his decision to abstain in last July’s Synod debate reflected his concern that plans for women bishops should be good news for supporters as well as opponents.

He said he was hoping and praying to one day be able to vote in favour of a motion on the consecration of women bishops “with a sense of full-hearted gladness that this is good news for everyone to some degree in our Church”.

Because if it isn’t then I think there is something missing in our witness to one another as well as to the world,” the Archbishop said.

Opponents of women bishops told Synod of their concerns over the proposed Code of Practice. While the Code of Practice would allow parishes unable to accept women bishops to petition for a complementary male bishop, the diocesan bishop would be entitled to refuse the petition. The petitioning parish or church would then have to seek a judicial review in the high court to overturn the decision.

The Rev Rod Thomas, Chairman of Reform, said that a Code of Practice was “a very uncertain instrument” that left traditionalists “with a feeling that our ministry in the Church is simply being tolerated rather than we are being given space where our ministry is encouraged to flourish”.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, warned that the consecration of women bishops would be damaging to the episcopate and only lead to further divisions.

“I believe that women should and will be ordained to the episcopate but what I see before me in the proposed legislation is an episcopate so damaged and fractured as to be scarcely worthy of the name. I cannot see what amendments would render this legislation satisfactory.”

Synod members now have until March 16 to submit proposed amendments for consideration by the revision committee. The full revision process will take years, however, and the Church of England said the first woman bishop would not be consecrated until at least 2014.