Church of England votes to ordain women bishops

Published September 1, 2008


The (Anglican) Church of England’s governing general synod, meeting in York, has voted by more than two to one to bring forward legislation to allow the consecration of women as bishops.

“I’m absolutely delighted that we are finally taking the next step. The church has waited a long time for this day,” said Christina Rees, chairperson of the pro-women bishops movement Watch, following the July 7 vote.

The synod decided against a proposal for male “super bishops” to oversee parishes opposed to appointing women to the episcopate. Instead it was decided that a code of practice should be drawn up to accommodate those “who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive women as bishops or priests.”

Several speakers during the debate warned that a code of practice would not provide sufficiently robust safeguards for those opposed to the ordination of women.

About 1,300 clergy had threatened to leave the church if the synod failed to agree to safeguards for those objecting to women bishops, but a substantial number of these are retired. (The Church of England has more than 18,000 licensed ministers, according to the church’s yearbook.)

The synod’s decision for women bishops followed a contentious debate lasting more than six hours. At one stage, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, held his head in his hands, and the Bishop of Dover, Stephen Venner, broke down in tears saying he was ashamed of the church for ignoring those opposed to the consecration of women as bishops.

Strongest support for change came from the clergy, who make up one of the three “houses” of the synod, the church’s parliament, with 124 in favour and 44 against. The bishops voted 28 to 12 in favour, and the laity 111 to 68. Overall there were seven abstentions.

The first women bishops are, however, unlikely to be appointed before 2014, said Anglican sources.

Further details of the unspecified code of practice and the work of a drafting group which will draw up legislation to bring in women bishops are expected to go before the next meeting of the synod in February 2009. A final vote will require a two-thirds majority for the measure, which will then require ratification by the British parliament.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said he had “not very comfortably” come to the conclusion that provisions must be made for those opposed to women bishops.       


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