The Church of England published a plan on Friday to approve the ordination of women bishops by 2015, a widely supported reform it just missed passing last November after two decades of divisive debate.
It said the new plan, outlined in a document signed by
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John
Sentamu, would be presented to the General Synod, the Church
legislature, in July to begin the approval process.
The proposal would make
allowances for traditionalists who oppose women clergy, a minority that
blocked the reform at the last Synod meeting, but each diocese will have
to have a bishop willing to ordain women to the priesthood, it said.
The issue pits reformers, keen to project a more modern
and egalitarian image of the church as it struggles with falling
congregations in many increasingly secular countries, against a minority
of conservatives who see the change as contradicting the Bible.
"We are perhaps at a moment when the only way forward is
one which makes it difficult for anyone to claim outright victory," said
Bishop Nigel Stock, chairman of the working group drawing up new
proposals after the reform's defeat last November.
"The Church of England should retain its defining characteristic of
being a broad Church, capable of accommodating a wide range of
theological conviction," he said in a statement.
The mother church to the world's 80 million Anglicans was thrown into
turmoil when the reform won 73 percent support but failed because it
fell four votes short in the House of Laity.
Legislation needs a two-thirds majority in the Synod's houses of
bishops, clergy and laity to pass. Because of the legislative process,
Synod members had said it would take five years before the reform could
come up for another vote.
"It seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the
trends and priorities of ... wider society," outgoing Archbishop of
Canterbury Rowan Williams said at the time.
Sunday Times survey in March showed 80 percent of those polled favored
allowing women to become bishops and almost 50 percent thought the
Church was wrong to oppose British government plans to legalize same-sex
The Church approved the ordination of
women priests in 1992, but delayed making them bishops because of
opposition within its previously all-male clergy. Bishops play a key
role in many Christian churches where only they can ordain new clergy.
Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New
Zealand, Canada and the United States, but Anglican churches in many
developing countries oppose any female clergy and are working together
to shield themselves against such reforms.
Protestant denominations allow women clergy, including bishops, but the
largest Christian churches - the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox - do
not. The Church of England decided to allow celibate gay bishops in
January, earning stinging criticism from traditionalist African Anglican
The new plan would allow conservative
bishops to continue in office while opposing women's ordination, but
said "there should no longer be any dioceses where none of the serving
bishops ordains women as priests."
suggested that future appointments might be influenced by a bishop's
views on women clergy, saying that "many dioceses will want to insist
that their diocesan bishop should be someone who ordains women".