Church vote may finally pave way for approval of women bishops

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The Church of England’s ruling body has voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation which could see women bishops given final approval by next year.

Opponents and supporters of women bishops gave their backing to first approval of a package of measures introducing women bishops alongside safeguards for traditionalists including an ombudsman to rule on disputes.

The move came as David Cameron – who last year said the Church of England needed a “sharp prod” over the issue – suggested that the first women bishops could be fast-tracked into the House of Lords.

Members of the General Synod, speaking in a debate, hailed “miraculous” progress made over the issue within the Church of England since the collapse of legislation by just six votes amid bitter recriminations a year ago.

The Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, said: “From where we are today, compared to where we were a year ago, it is as someone said to me the other day ‘nothing short of miraculous’.”

But leading conservative evangelicals warned that there still remained “major issues” to be resolved – prompting the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, to warn against “opening the champagne” yet.

“We should not open the champagne bottles or whatever drink we regard as celebratory because we need to agree to work together until the end,” he said.

The Rev Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, the conservative evangelical group, and a member of the steering committee, acknowledged “shock, bewilderment and anger and much grief,” caused by the collapse of the legislation last year.

“To be be able to sit down and talk with people who have experienced those emotions and talk constructively about ways by which we might find agreement has been a very uplifting process,” he said. “I shall be voting for this motion – that is not to say that at the end of the day that if these major concerns remain that I will be able to vote for final approval for the package.”

Leading Anglo-Catholic Canon Simon Killwick spoke of the “big improvements” and better atmosphere in the General Synod. “Clearly a great deal of trust is still required on all sides. I thank God that there is such a positive atmosphere in the synod today,” he said.

But the director of Reform, Susie Leafe, a member of the steering committee who voted to abstain on commending the package, said she could not vote in favour and insisted the church could not flourish by denying its theological convictions.