Supporters of female bishops are expressing growing confidence that the final glass ceiling within the Church of England will be shattered today, more than two decades after women were first allowed to become priests.
Members of the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, will decide this afternoon whether to approve legislation allowing women to take the most senior roles.
A significant majority of Church leaders, clergy and laity are in favour of women bishops and have voted overwhelmingly in favour each time the legislation has come before Synod. But a vocal minority of traditionalists, conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are vehemently opposed and have vowed to sink the legislation.
However, supporters are confident that they have begun to win the argument. “I think there’s a growing acceptance among traditionalists and Anglo-Catholics that the current compromise is a better option than tearing the Church of England apart for the next five years,” said the Rev George Pitcher, a prominent church commentator and former spin doctor for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Christina Rees, a Synod member who has campaigned for women bishops for the past 20 years, said: “I’m quietly confident. It’s become a bit like the Obama-Romney contest. Lots of talk of a knife-edge vote, but in the end I think the legislation will pass by a relatively comfortable majority.”
For the legislation to pass, all three houses of Synod – bishops, clergy and laity – have to vote in favour by a two-thirds majority. The clergy and bishops will almost certainly vote in favour but things are much less clear cut in the house of laity where the no lobby has been gathering momentum. When women were first allowed to become priests in 1992, the vote was passed in the house of laity by a tiny two-vote majority.
Both sides of the debate have launched furtive last-minute lobbying campaigns. Meetings were hastily arranged in the redbrick confines of Church House where today’s vote takes place.
Dr Lindsay Newcombe, an Anglo-Catholic who is opposed to women bishops, spent much of yesterday morning in meetings with fellow traditionalists and carried a bundle of flyers explaining why she would vote against the legislation.
“I have a doctorate in mechanical engineering, so I don’t believe women should be placed in boxes or considered less able than men,” she explained. “It’s part of the beauty of what the Church is saying that men and women are different but there is a symbiosis and connection between them. And by cherishing these differences we can honour both women and men.”Reuse content