The Church of England is facing a close vote on whether to give final approval to the introduction of women bishops, according to a senior official.
William Fittall, secretary general to the General Synod, said it was believed that the “arithmetic” of the vote by the General Synod over women bishops next month was “tight” in the same way as 20 years ago when the first female clergy were approved.
“If it fails, what happens is that the legislation is lost – that is it. It is gone. Therefore you have to start the legislative process from scratch,” he said.
“I think that 20 years ago everybody thought the arithmetic was tight, people were not quite sure whether it was going to go through,” he added.
“All the talk this time is that the arithmetic again is tight.
“Yet I think that the expectation in the Church of England, given the very strong support in the dioceses, the expectation in the Church of England and indeed the expectation outside the Church of England is that it is going to go through.
“So if it does not go through I think that will undoubtedly be a very significant moment.”
Mr Fittall said if the legislation fails to clear the hurdle of final approval next month, it would take at least another five years before legislation on women bishops could come again for final approval before the General Synod.
He was briefing journalists on next month’s meeting of the General Synod, the Church’s national assembly in London, when its 470 members will be asked to approve the legislation. A make-or-break vote was delayed in July amid continuing divisions between traditionalists and pro-women campaigners over the issue.
The legislation needs a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod, of clergy, laity and bishops, for approval.
If the legislation clears the final hurdle at the General Synod, it will then go for approval in the Houses of Parliament before receiving Royal Assent, paving the way for the first women bishops in 2014.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who leaves his post at the end of this year, launched a campaign last week for the General Synod for the measure to be approved.