Rowan Williams: I long to see women bishops in CofE

The Archbishop of Canterbury warned that the Church of England would be “staring into the abyss” if it delayed final approval of draft legislation on women bishops any longer.

Dr Rowan Williams was addressing clergy ahead of the start of the General Synod in York on Friday.

The House of Laity and the Convocations – provincial synods – of Canterbury and York met separately today to vote whether to send draft legislation on women bishops for debate and final approval by Synod on Monday.

A vote against the motion by the House of Laity today would have terminated the entire legislative process until the election of a new General Synod in 2015, setting the consecration of women bishops back years.

Dr Williams underlined his own strong support for women bishops.

He told clergy: "Like the majority of members of Synod and majority of members of the Church of England, I am very firmly of the view that we need to proceed as speedily as we can to resolve this question because I like most of you long to see women bishops in the Church of England.

“I also long for there to be the kind of provision for those who continue to have theological reservations on this subject, for their position to be secured in such a way that they can feel grateful for the outcome.

“That is the essence of what I believe Synod at large still thinks despite the unfinished business of sorting out what that means in practice.”

After being given the go-ahead for debate today, the draft legislation includes a controversial amendment added by the House of Bishops.

The amendment has attracted strong criticism from supporters as well as opponents of women bishops.

The Reform group of orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England has already called upon its Synod members to vote the legislation down.

The acrimony centres on Clause 5(1)(c), which states that a male bishop or priest selected to provide alternative oversight to orthodox parishes must share their theological convictions in relation to the consecration or ordination of women.

Women and the Church (WATCH), a group supporting women in the episcopate, launched a petition in the run up to Synod calling for the withdrawal of the amendment on the grounds that it would “entrench permanent division in the Church” and “feed a deeply damaging ambivalence towards women as made in the image of God”.

The Measure being presented to General Synod on Monday is the culmination of more than a decade of often painful negotiations.

A spokesperson for the Church of England said that the legislation could still stumble in Monday's vote because of opposition in the House of Laity.

He said that the laity were split "50/50" on the legislation.

If the legislation is approved by Synod, the draft Measure will go for approval in the Commons and Lords before receiving Royal Assent.

Final approval on Monday would open the way for the first woman bishop to be consecrated from late 2013, although it said early 2014 would be more likely.

Church officials said that if the draft legislation is rejected at this stage, the arrival of women bishops would be delayed by at least five years.