The Archbishop of Canterbury last night narrowly avoided schism in the Church of England after the General Synod took a step towards the ordination of women bishops.
The Church's governing body voted to back possible further amendments to legislation introducing women bishops before it is given final approval later this year.
The move comes as Dr Rowan Williams appealed to the Church's national assembly to "leave the door open" to the bishops for some "bits of fine tuning" to the proposals in the face of concerns from objectors. "I think we have a very high degree of clarity about the basic principles here," he told the General Synod.
Bishops had been predicting a "train crash" earlier in the day but both supporters of women bishops and traditionalists said they were happy with the result. The Synod voted to reject a compromise deal over women bishops that would have appeased traditionalists but alienated supporters of female bishops. But the vote was a snub for the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who had publicly appealed for members to vote for the compromise motion.
At the heart of the debate was whether accommodation should be made in law for those opposed to women bishops. But the General Synod rejected the plan to have "co-ordinate bishops" to work alongside women diocesan bishops after hearing its approval would see many supporters of women bishops leave the church. They rejected a compromise which aimed to give a greater measure of autonomy to male bishops appointed to oversee parishes that refuse to accept women bishops.