Church of England overcomes bitter divisions to vote for women bishops

Church of England overcomes bitter divisions and overturns 2012 vote; first women bishops could be appointed in the country later this year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 1:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 1:45am


The Church of England overcame bitter divisions yesterday to vote in favour of allowing female bishops for the first time in its nearly 500-year history.

The decision reverses a previous shock rejection in 2012 and comes after intensive diplomacy by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Cheers erupted in the hall at the Church of England General Synod in York, northern England, as the measure passed. The first women bishops could now be appointed before the end of the year.

"Today is the completion of what was begun over 20 years ago with the ordination of women as priests. I am delighted," said Welby, spiritual leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans.

"Today marks the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases, disagreeing."

The results came in a series of three votes across different houses of the church. The House of Bishops voted 37 for, two against with one abstention, the House of Clergy voted 162 for, 25 against with four abstentions, and the House of Laity voted 152 for, 45 against with five abstentions.

The issue must now be debated by Britain's parliament, approved by Queen Elizabeth and then come back to the General Synod in November as a formality before taking effect.

"This is a watershed moment for the Church of England and a huge step forward in making our society fairer," Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said.

"Allowing women to become bishops is another long overdue step towards gender equality in senior positions." Welby had pressed for the appointment of women bishops since being named to the church's top post in 2012.

A yes vote does not compel Anglican churches in other countries to allow women bishops, but senior clergy say it sets a symbolic precedent that other nations would be likely to follow.

There are already Anglican women bishops in other countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia.

The principle of appointing women bishops had been strongly opposed by conservatives in the Church of England.

But many said they had been persuaded to support the package of proposals due to assurances that their views would continue to be respected and they would not be forced to be ministered to by a female bishop.

"While we are deeply concerned about the consequences for the wider unity of the whole Church, we remain committed to working together with all in the Church of England to further the mission of the Church to the nation," said Simon Killwick, chairman of the Synod's Catholic Group, which opposed the move.

Welby's de facto number two, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, hinted at the frustration among top clergy over how long it had taken to resolve the issue.

"This is the third time in two years we have embarked on a final approval debate on women bishops - you ought by now to be getting the hang of it," he joked.

Women priests were first ordained in 1994. The church has been debating whether they should be allowed to be bishops in earnest since 2000. They make up around a third of the clergy.