Synod to consider women bishops 'ombudsman'

image captionClergy could be faced with disciplinary measures under the proposal

A powerful ombudsman-style arbitrator is being considered by the Church of England to rule on rows about the issue of women bishops.

The Church's ruling general synod will decide next month whether to introduce an "independent reviewer" to resolve disputes between Anglicans.

Most synod members want women bishops but failure to agree how to create them has increased divisions in the Church.

A minority of synod lay members have managed to block their appointment.

They insisted legislation to introduce women bishops gave traditionalists insufficient exemptions from serving under them.

Progressives in the synod have also refused to back legislation they claim would undermine future women bishops by giving too many concessions to traditionalists.

Under the latest proposals it is hoped can break the deadlock, an arbitrator - similar to a health service ombudsman - would rule on disputes about the guarantees offered to traditionalists.

'Publish findings'

Clergy who fail to co-operate with investigations by the reviewer would be subject to disciplinary procedures.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said pressure was increasing on the Church of England to resolve deadlock over the creation of women bishops.

William Fittall, secretary general of the synod, said: "This is an ombudsman-type process, the real power comes through being able to investigate and publish findings. It is not in itself a disciplinary process.

"Although, the fact that the regulations are made under canon law will mean that if a priest or bishop simply fails to engage with the independent reviewer then that in itself could be a disciplinary offence."

He described the collapse of legislation for women bishops last year as a "train crash" and said any repeat would be "very serious" for the Church.

The latest measures were drawn up by a steering committee that included some prominent opponents of women bishops.

Committee chairman and Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend James Longstaff, said the proposals offered traditionalists an "appeal mechanism".

"We're putting in place a very simple legal measure where women could be made bishops. But at the same time we also want to give a place to people who don't respect that position," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We're then putting in place a mechanism whereby parishes could seek the ministry of either a male priest or a male bishop and this is, if you like, the appeal mechanism."

The proposals will be debated by the synod in London next month when it could approve legislation to introduce women bishops by 2014.