Church of England paves way for first women bishops


The legislative process to allow women as bishops looks set to conclude this year after a vote by the Church of England's parliamentary body today.

The General Synod, meeting in London, gave the green light to fast track the process and cut the diocesan consultation period from six months to three.

The agreement came over the course of four debates on Tuesday and follows intensive closed-door talks to draw up legislation that will not see a repeat of November 2012's defeat, when legislation failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority.

With the majority of Anglicans in the Church of England supporting women bishops, the emphasis since that time has been on uniting supporters and opponents around simple legislation, and bringing the legislative process to conclusion in the shortest possible time.

At its meeting last November, the General Synod made the unusual decision to dispense with a Revision Committee Stage for the new legislation so that the Synod could conduct the Revision Stage in Synod instead.

Today, the draft Act of Synod to rescind the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 was passed by 304 votes to 33, with 45 abstentions.

The move to shorten the consultation period from six to three months also passed without any great challenge by 358 votes to 39, with 9 abstentions.

The outcome of today's votes means it is possible that the first woman bishop could be appointed before the end of the year.

The legislation now goes to the dioceses for approval and if a majority approve it by 22 May, it will go before General Synod again in July for final approval.

If it is passed at that time, the legislation will go to Parliament for approval and could be in force before the end of the year.

The Women and the Church lobby group (WATCH) said it was "very pleased" that legislation to enable women bishops was now proceeding, and that it looked forward to the first woman bishop being nominated by the end of the year.

Hilary Cotton, Chair of WATCH, said, "There was a real sense of wanting to move forward today."