Churchmen close ranks (again) in battle over women bishops

Anglican traditionalists plan a controversial last-ditch attempt to block their Synod's move to equality.

Twenty years after women were first allowed to become priests, the Church of England is bracing itself for a week of bitter rows over the consecration of female bishops as traditionalists gear up for a last-ditch attempt to stop full equality.

The thorny issue of whether women can hold the most senior positions in the church has dominated Anglican debates for much of the past 10 years. But next week things will come to a head as the church's General Synod – its parliament – votes on a crucial debate that is seen by many within the pro-women lobby as a last-minute attempt to scupper their progress.

Described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as "the most significant set of legislative decisions [Synod] has had to deal with for some 20 years", the issue of women bishops still threatens to tear the church in two. Previous Synods have consistently voted in favour of allowing women to become bishops, in what has been a tortuous and lengthy legislative process for a church that prides itself on welcoming a multitude of opinions. But a minority coalition of traditionalists, conservatives and Anglo-Catholics has always opposed them, believing that Jesus intended men to lead the church.

"Next week is the last opportunity we have got as a Synod to resolve the differences concerning women bishops in a way that promotes unity and does not lead to enormous disruption within the church," says Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative evangelical group Reform. "It is a potentially very significant moment."

The dissidents have demanded that the church create a separate category of male bishops who are ordained by men only, and therefore able to cater to parishioners who cannot countenance a female bishop. The pro-women lobby argue that such a move would create a two-tier system where women bishops are effectively second-class citizens within their own church. In an attempt to find a compromise and stop mass defections at a time of dwindling church attendance, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, both of whom support women bishops, have risked the wrath of liberals by throwing their support behind a controversial suggestion that would allow traditionalists to reject female leadership. Under their plans, those parishes that feel unable to be led by a woman could request oversight from a male bishop who does not serve under a female.

The same amendment was narrowly defeated in 2010 but has since been resurrected by the Bishop of Manchester, who has argued that Synod should vote on it again. In the opposite corner is the Bishop of Southwark, who has tabled a separate amendment calling on Synod to pass the legislation as it stands.

The row, often described by Synod members as "Manchester vs Southwark", will come to a head on Wednesday, with observers expecting bitter recriminations. If Southwark wins the argument, the likelihood is that women could become bishops by 2014, once the legislation passes on to Synod for final approval in July and then to Parliament. Those opposed to them would either have to leave the church or grudgingly accept their authority. If Manchester wins, the House of Bishops would be under pressure to rework the legislation and provide some sort of opt-out for dissenters.

Guessing which way Synod will vote is difficult. The Church of England prides itself on being a "big tent" that welcomes multiple opinions, and there is a strong feeling that compromises should be made to try to keep the anti-equality faction within the church.

But after two decades of female priests, many believe it is absurd to keep women away from the church's most senior positions. Church of England members are painfully aware that their refusal to allow women to become bishops runs against prevailing opinion that has outlawed such discrimination in non-religious settings. Anglicans in North America, New Zealand, Australia, Cuba and Canada already have women bishops, while Ireland and Scotland permit women bishops, although none has yet been appointed.

Among the more vocal supporters of women bishops there is little appetite for compromise. "If a female diocesan bishop must, in law, share her authority with a male bishop who does not recognise her orders, then her status and authority as a bishop would be called into question," said Hilary Cotton of Women and the Church, which has spearheaded the drive for female bishops. "This would perpetuate the sense that the church is 'not quite sure' that women are fully human and of equal value in the sight of God."

Who will be first? Leading contenders

More than 1,700 women have become clergy since the bar was lifted. Here are some of the front-runners to be first woman bishop.

Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

A fiercely bright academic, theologian and historian, she is currently a chaplain and fellow at Durham University. Initially an atheist, she converted to Christianity while studying at Cambridge.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin

One of the first crop of women to be ordained, the Jamaican-born Hudson-Wilkin has been a vocal supporter of female bishops. A vicar in Hackney and a mother of three, she was also recently appointed the first female chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Lucy Winkett

A former canon at St Paul's who served her curacy in Ilford, she is now rector of St James's Church in Piccadilly. A regular contributor to Radio 4's Thought for the Day, she is also a founder adviser to the Christian think tank Theos.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Rand...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering