C of E to vote 'yes' for women bishops

2014-07-14 16:13

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London - The Church of England was set on Monday to let women become bishops in a vote that would overturn centuries of tradition in a Church that has been deeply divided over the issue for decades.

Two years ago, a similar proposal narrowly failed due to opposition from traditionalist lay members, to the dismay of modernisers, the Church hierarchy and politicians.

The debate pits reformers, keen to project a more modern image of the church as it struggles with falling congregations in many increasingly secular countries, against a conservative minority which says the change contradicts the Bible.

Women serve as bishops in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand but Anglican churches in many developing countries do not even ordain them as priests.

The General Synod, the governing body of the Church of England, will now vote on an amended draft.

"I think and believe that this is the moment for us to vote yes," said the Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff, who proposed the motion to the Synod in the northern English city of York.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans, has said people would find it "almost incomprehensible" if the Synod voted "no" again.

Hilary Cotton, chair of the Women and the Church group, which has campaigned for women bishops, said she was very optimistic, and that the mood appeared to be different in the governing body, which only allowed women to be priests in 1992.

"There is a real will to move forward and together," she told Reuters.

Equal opportunity

The 2012 vote was rejected by the Synod, with the bishops and the clergy in favour and opposition from lay members denying the two thirds majority needed in all three houses to pass.

The Church's response was to set up a committee to find common ground and its new proposals won widespread acceptance in the Synod in November last year.

The plan is to create an independent official who could intervene when traditionalist parishes complain about women bishops' authority, as well as guidelines for parishes whose congregations reject women's ministry.

"Theologically, the church has been wrong not to ordain women as priests and bishops over the centuries," Welby told the BBC TV in an interview broadcast on Sunday. He said he believed the first female bishop could be named early next year.

Critics say ordaining women bishops would break with the tradition of a male-only clergy dating back to the Twelve Apostles, while supporters argue it is a matter of equality.

Bishops are crucial senior managers in Christian churches that uphold the episcopal tradition because only they can ordain priests and assure the continuation of the clergy.

Read more on:    gender equality

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