Key debate on women bishops delayed

A key debate on women bishops has been delayed until the summer after the Church of England received an "avalanche" of submissions about the subject, it was announced today.

The Church said more than 100 submissions had been received by a legislative drafting group working on the issue of women bishops.

It had been hoped that the legislation could be debated by the General Synod, the church's ruling body, meeting in London next month but this will not now take place until it meets at York in July.

William Fittall, secretary general to the General Synod, said the 19 members of the committee were dealing with "extraordinarily difficult" and complicated issues.

He denied that the 19 committee members were deliberately delaying the process in the face of threats of a walkout by Anglo Catholics to the Roman Catholic Church.

"We have said in the past that the Synod was very unlikely to get to the final approval stage for the legislation before 2012 and that meant it was pretty unlikely that we would have the first women as bishop before 2014," he said.

"I do not think the fact that the legislation is coming in February rather than July changes that."

The Church of England has voted to back the principle of women bishops but currently faces complex negotiations on how such legislation might be implemented.

There were emotional scenes in York nearly two years ago after the General Synod threw out compromise proposals designed to placate traditionalists over the issue.