Q&A: Women bishops debate
The Church of England's general synod is considering new proposals for legislation allowing women to become bishops. We look at the background and possible consequences.
What happened to the last motion to allow women bishops?
A measure before the synod in November 2012 would have made it lawful for women to be consecrated to the office of bishop.
It passed in the Houses of Bishops and Clergy of the general synod, but failed to gain the required two-thirds majority in the House of Laity.
What happens now?
The 18-20 November 2013 session of the general synod backed revised proposals, allowing them to be considered again at the synod's February 2014 session in London.
It had been thought that a measure on women bishops could not be voted on until July 2015 at the earliest. But the Steering Committee on the draft legislation later has proposed a speeded-up timetable which it believes could allow the legislation to be approved during 2014.
What is different about the latest proposals?
They go for the simplest possible measure allowing women to be bishops.
The Steering Committee says safeguards for the opponents (basically, being able to request male priests and bishops to look after them) could be guaranteed by principles set down in a declaration made by the House of Bishops, with disputes ruled on by an independent reviewer (widely dubbed an "ombudsman").
Is this a new idea?
It is a new approach for the Church's leadership, but for a long time the "simplest possible measure" has been the key demand of the most forthright wing of those supporting women bishops.
Almost all opponents accept there will be women bishops - but they want guarantees in the law that they can be looked after by male priests and bishops who are acceptable to them and have resisted moves to take the safeguards out of the legislation and set them out less formally.
Supporters have always feared that such concessions would mean a woman bishop did not have full authority in her own diocese; and have said the opponents' views were being given too much weight.
For a long time the Church wrestled with finding a law which included reassurances to those who object to women priests and bishops. All these efforts came to nothing in November 2012.
What do the two sides think of the latest proposal?
All sides say a more co-operative climate has emerged since the shock of the November 2012 vote.
The main group campaigning for women bishops, Women and the Church (Watch), said after the November 2013 session that it was "very encouraged by the tone of the debate and the result of the vote which was overwhelmingly positive".
Anglo-Catholic opponents of women bishops have also voiced enthusiasm over the tone of the recent debate. "The battle is surely over," said Prebendary David Houlding.
Evangelical opponents are not quite as sanguine. The Rev Rod Thomas, chairman of the evangelical group Reform, said discussions this year had been "very uplifting" but concerns remained.
"I shall be voting for this motion - that is not to say that at the end of the day... that I will be able to vote for final approval for the package," he said at the November 2013 session.
Is the new approach likely to succeed?
A measure along these lines would have been even more unlikely to pass in November 2012 than the one voted on. The new plan gives less to opponents - who for long demanded safeguards within the law itself - than the package which they voted down in November 2012.
But the margin by which the 2012 measure failed to get a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity was small. Seventy-four members of that House voted against, with 132 in favour.
In the present synod only a few members of the House of Laity would have to vote the other way to reverse the earlier result - assuming everyone else's vote stayed the same.
The speeded-up timetable proposed by the Steering Committee is a rather bold proposal - but opponents of women bishops have not challenged it on procedural grounds.
How long has this row been going on - it seems like decades?
Decades is right (see the timeline published by the CofE). The Church agreed to ordain women priests in 1994. But the proposal to appoint women as bishops sparked a new set of problems.
Those who oppose women's ordination would not simply have to tolerate women bishops, as they do with women priests; they might also have to obey them as their superiors in the Church.
Women bishops would also be able to ordain priests, which some opponents say is not merely unacceptable, but theologically impossible. Most of the legal wrangling has been over how to reassure the opponents.
Who are the opponents and what have they got against women bishops?
Some - but not all - of the CofE's evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics oppose the appointment of women bishops.
Anglo-Catholics revere the traditions and ceremonies of the Church. Some believe a woman cannot be a valid bishop and ordaining women prevents unity with the Roman Catholics.
Evangelicals place great stress on the teachings of the Bible. Those who oppose women bishops say scripture requires male headship in the Church.
How many Anglican women bishops are there worldwide?
Among the Anglican Communion, a worldwide family of churches of which the Church of England is part, there are 27 women bishops in active ministry.
The most recently appointed, in September 2013, is Bishop Eggoni Pushpalalitha of Nandyal, a diocese of the Church of South India.
The same month the Reverend Pat Storey, rector of St Augustine's in Derry, was appointed Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare - the first woman Anglican bishop in the UK and Ireland.
In addition there are four in Australia and New Zealand; five in Canada; one in Cuba; 13 in the USA; one in Swaziland; and one in South Africa.
Not as many people are active in the Church as formerly. Why is this vote important to the rest of us?
It would alter the leadership profile of the Church of England, which is central to many state occasions and local ceremonies across the country.
For Christians who are not actively religious, it is often the "default" Church that they turn to for weddings, christenings, funerals and education.
Women bishops' approval by the CofE would also encourage those who are starting to call for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church.