The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has indicated that today's meeting of the General Synod is almost certain to vote in favour of women bishops for the first time.
Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, Rev Welby said the Church of England was now only months away from appointing its first ever woman bishop.
The Archbishop sounded highly confident that the meeting will end an argument that has been going on within the church for two decades by finally agreeing to the ordination of women bishops.
When the issue last came up in 2012, it was failed by six votes to secure the necessary two third majority. This time “the votes are there,” Rev Welby said.
But on the other issue threatening to cause a rift in the church – gay marriage – the Archbishop said he “continues to struggle” with the question of what to do.
“There is a good chance of the first woman bishop being announced very early in 2015, probably being chosen possibly before that,” he said.
“Women will be bishops like all other bishops, with no distinction at all, but we will seek for the groups who disagree with the ordination of women as bishop on theological grounds to continue to flourish within the church.”
“It is not open to people to deny the validity of that decision. They (women bishops) are exactly the same as all other bishops. We are also saying, though, that we are not a party or political organisation where you chuck out the ones you disagree with – that the church is a family, and you may disagree vehemently with each other, but you have to live together.”
Asked if he could anticipate seeing a woman Archbishop of Canterbury in his lifetime, he replied: “I have no idea. I would be delighted if I did.”
He added: “For the general public this is almost incomprehensible, and it is equally incomprehensible that we are still talking about it. I am hopeful it will pass. I am not actually focused on what happens if it fails.”
“Theologically, the church has been wrong not to ordain women as priests and bishops over the centuries. We got caught up in the culture over the centuries, as churches do.”
But he said that despite meetings he has had with gay and lesbian Christians, he is “not convinced” of the case for gay marriage.
“I was very clearly against same sex marriage when the bill came through, and the position of the Church remains unchanged on that. Our official position is completely unchanged. But we are beginning a process of shared conversations in the Church and I just want to let those take their course and not pre-empt the way we are going to emerge from those decisions.”
He added: “I continue to struggle with the issue.”