Women bishops: Church backs plan to fast-track scheme

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The Church of England's governing body has backed legislation which could see the first woman bishop appointed by the end of the year.

The general synod has agreed to cut the time it would take to consult its 44 dioceses on the legislation from six months to three.

The move could lead to final approval of the legislation in July and it could come into force by November.

Lois Haslam, of Chester diocese, hailed a step towards the "promised land".

Speaking during the debate over the legislation, she said: "I feel something like what Moses must have felt as he approached the promised land.

"We have wandered round women bishops legislation for many, many years, we are now approaching the promised land and it is exciting."

'Counting chickens'

The proposal to halve the consultation period was backed by 358 general synod members, with 39 voting against and nine abstaining.

The legislation will now go to the Church's dioceses for approval and, providing the majority approve it by the 22 May deadline, the general synod will be able to hold the final debate in July.

If passed, the legislation would go to Parliament for approval and could be in force before the end of the year.

However, Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff sounded a note of caution after the vote.

"I am not in the business of counting chickens before I have got them, as it were, because we do not know how people will vote at the final approval vote necessarily," he said.

"One house failing to get the two-thirds majority can lead to the whole thing failing.

"We are hopeful that the different shape of the process we are running will lead to final approval, otherwise we would not be taking it through to that stage.

"But until votes are counted, it would be premature to assume it is going to go through."

The plans remain divisive in some sections of the Church.

David Banting, from Chelmsford Diocese, criticised the fast tracking as "unprecedented, irresponsible, as well as being unhelpful".

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