Church of England synod vote 'paves way' for female bishops

Members of the General Synod of the Church of England Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Members of the clergy voted overwhelmingly in favour of new proposals which could pave the way for female bishops

The Church of England's ruling body has voted in favour of proposals which could allow the ordination of women bishops next year.

Members of the general synod passed a motion with a majority of 378 to eight, with 25 abstentions.

It paves the way for endorsement of women bishops alongside a "declaration" by bishops setting out guidance for parishes which reject female ministry.

The package also includes the creation of an ombudsman to rule on disputes.

It could see traditionalist clergy who oppose women bishops and refuse to co-operate with the ombudsman's inquiries facing disciplinary proceedings.

The vote comes after the synod failed to agree on the legislation by just six votes almost exactly a year ago.

At the time, the synod's general secretary William Fittall described the collapse of the legislation as a "train crash" and Prime Minister David Cameron said that the church "needed to get on with it".

But the new package received widespread support on Wednesday and could see a final approval of women bishops in July next year.

'Work together'

In response to news of the vote, the prime minister suggested that women bishops could be fast-tracked into the House of Lords, where senior bishops traditionally sit.

Mr Cameron said he would work with the church to see women bishops in Parliament "as soon as possible".

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions he said: "I strongly support women bishops and I hope the Church of England takes this key step to ensure its place as a modern church, in touch with our society."

Following the vote, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, described the passing of the motion as "nothing short of miraculous".

But the Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend Dr John Sentamu, urged caution against premature celebration, warning: "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."

'Not over'

Susie Leafe, a member of the steering committee whose members voted to abstain and the director of Reform, a conservative evangelical group, said she could not vote in favour of the motion.

"We claim that this package is designed to enable all to flourish, yet I and my church can only flourish when we deny our theological convictions and accept a woman as our chief pastor," she said.

Fellow committee member the Rev Rod Thomas - chairman of Reform and a prominent opponent of women bishops - voted in favour of the revised proposals, but warned he "could not say" he would vote for final approval of the package "if major concerns remain".

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev James Langstaff, warned against "complacency" and said there was "a lot of work still to be done".

"People will have voted in favour of this to continue the process who may or may not vote in favour of the package at the end of the day. So it is not over and that is a reality," he said.

Further votes on approval for the draft legislation are due to take place in the general synod on Wednesday afternoon.

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