‘Second chance’ for church on women bishops

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin WelbyThe Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby
THE CHURCH of England is being given a second chance to back the introduction of women bishops at a key meeting this weekend.

Members of the General Synod will be asked to give final approval to legislation introducing women bishops, paving the way for the first female diocesan bishop in the Church of England by early next year.

The vote comes after the plan was derailed by just six votes cast by lay members in November 2012, causing shock and bitter recriminations within the Church of England and prompting threats of an intervention by Parliament.

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Supporters of women bishops have said they are hopeful of success in the vote on Monday at York University.

But The Guardian reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, is preparing to drive through the plan should the General Synod choose to reject it for a second time.

The body could be dissolved so that fresh elections could produce the necessary majority by November, the newspaper reported, or the bishops in the House of Lords could move to introduce the legislation without the approval of the Synod.

A Lambeth Palace spokesman said: “We are concentrating on getting the vote through. It would not be helpful to speculate further.”

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The new simplified legislation was introduced to the General Synod last year. Mediation and conflict management experts were brought in to help resolve differences between Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals opposed to women’s ordination and supporters of women bishops.

It is thought that several people who voted against the legislation in 2012 will now vote in favour or have agreed to abstain. The legislation needs a two thirds majority in each of the houses of the General Synod - bishops, clergy and laity.

Christina Rees, a General Synod member and a vocal supporter of women bishops, said she was confident that the legislation would now be passed.

She said the reaction to the failure in November 2012 had been “sobering” for opponents.

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“I think the backlash from the people in the pews and members of the Church of England more widely really shocked and was very sobering to the people who voted against. I don’t think that they anticipated or understood the depth of feeling that people had out there,” she said.

The Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, have also said there is a “new sense of hope and expectation” ahead of the meeting.

The vote comes after 43 out of 44 dioceses - including two which voted against in the past - have backed the legislation. The 44th diocese, Europe, was unable to complete the consultation in time.

If given final approval, the plan will go to the ecclesiastical committee of Parliament and the House of Commons and House of Lords for consideration before royal assent is given. The General Synod would then meet on November 17 to formally declare that women can be bishops.

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The first women were ordained in 1994 in the Church of England and they now make up about a third all clergy. There are six female cathedral deans and more than 20 women archdeacons.

Southwell and Nottingham diocese, which has a vacancy after its bishop the Rt Rev Paul Butler was appointed as Bishop of Durham, would be the first diocesan see where a woman could be appointed. Retirements have also been announced in the Sees of Gloucester, Newcastle and Oxford.