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Church faces fresh turmoil over women bishops

The Church of England today faced fresh turmoil within its ranks as it published proposals paving the way for the consecration of women bishops.

Women bishops would be created without safeguards demanded by opponents under plans drawn up by a group working on the legislation.

The scheme, to be debated at the Church's national assembly, rejects measures such as new dioceses or a special class of bishops to cater for objectors.

Instead, women bishops who might be appointed in the future would retain the authority to make local arrangements for objectors if necessary after referring to a statutory code of practice.

The proposals are expected to spark a walkout by some Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals in the Church of England if they are approved by the General Synod of the Church of England meeting in York in July.

Three Anglo-Catholic bishops in the Church of England including the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst, were reported last weekend to have met advisers of the Pope in Rome to discuss setting up an "ordinariate" under a scheme catering for disaffected Anglicans within the Roman Catholic Church.

Commenting on the legislation published today, the Rt Rev Broadhurst said Anglo-Catholics would be "incandescent" and would effectively be "forced out" of the Church of England.

"I think they have no choice but to leave," he said.

He added: "We will have to wait and see what the Church of England does with it, but my view is that Anglicanism as it used to be, which was a variety of groups co-existing peacefully is over."

But Christina Rees, a member of the General Synod and a leading campaigner in favour of women bishops, welcomed the proposals.

She said: "It delivers what we have been asking for all along. This is something we can go ahead with and it holds faith with what the General Synod has been asking for. I very much hope that in July the General Synod will pass it and it will not be subject to any further delaying tactics."

The first women priests in the Church of England were ordained in 1994 and the Church gave its backing to the principle of women bishops in 2005 and 2006. A drafting group began work on preparing a code of practice and legislation after an emotional debate at the General Synod in 2008.

The Church of England said even if the legislation was approved in July, 2014 was the earliest "realistic date" for the first women to be consecrated as bishops.