Church of England assembly to confront impasse over women bishops

After archbishop's address, members meeting privately over weekend before decisive debate on Monday

The Church of England's General Synod, which begins today with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's first presidential address, is seeking the solution to growing demands to allow women to become bishops.

There will be a private meeting on Saturday to discuss proposals for new legislation on the role of women in the church, and Archbishop Welby is expected to make the issue the key focus of his speech ahead of a full public debate on Monday.

The Synod is seen by many as an opportunity to get legislation for women bishops back on track, after it was rejected by the House of Laity last November.

But tomorrow's meeting at York University will need to successfully strike a balance between traditionalists who do not want to see their diocese overseen by a woman, and those who see it as a natural progression for the church's one-third women priests.

The current proposals, which would include ensuring there are no more dioceses that will not ordain women priests, are seen as offering even fewer concessions to traditionalists than the ones that were defeated by six votes at the last Synod.

Those in the pro-women camp, meanwhile, argue that to have any concessions at all is to leave the church open to division and ridicule.

If a simple majority can be persuaded to accept the proposals on Monday, they will pass into the draft legislation phase. This would pave the way for final approval of women bishops by 2015, and a possible first appointment in 2016.

It is seen as up to Archbishop Welby to iron out the differences between the two groups, with the bishops-backed "Option One" still requiring arrangements be drawn up to satisfy opposition to the change.

The working group tasked with coming up with the proposals said they would rely "least on law and place the greatest emphasis on trust". Archbishop Welby and the Synod members will need a strong performance in tomorrow's trust exercise if they are to break through the Church of England's impasse on women's bishops.

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