The battle lines are drawn for the Church of England's biggest showdown over the ordination of women bishops. On Friday, the General Synod meets in York ahead of a vote that had been expected to usher in women to the top of the Church. But a last-minute change to the Bill means it is now likely to be rejected, leaving traditionalists and equality campaigners squabbling over what to do next.
The change, which makes it easier for parishes to request a male bishop if they object to a woman, was added in a concession to traditionalists during a closed meeting of the House of Bishops last month.
Having witnessed 12 years of wrangling, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is said to be keen that the new law gets pushed through, but Synod watchers believe it will fail to win the two-thirds majority needed.
Supporters of change say they are "furious" at the House of Bishops for adding the concession and a coalition of senior ordained women now say they cannot support the legislation. The group, known as Darc (Women Deans, Archdeacons and Residentiary Canons), urged church members to vote down the Bill as they believe the latest changes have made it discriminatory.
The Rev Celia Thomson, Canon of Gloucester Cathedral and Darc convenor, said: "The House of Bishops are, in good faith, concerned to keep as many people happy as possible, but the amendment they have added won't serve that purpose. It would discriminate against women in law. Do we really want to be... responsible for putting through legislation that discriminates against women? It's very distressing for all women clergy and for lay women in the Church, because it's saying something profound about how women are viewed. And that's not how the majority of the Church thinks about it".
Christina Rees, a General Synod member, will vote against the amendment despite decades of campaigning for the inclusion of women bishops. "I'm simply not happy putting into English law an amendment that discriminates against people who think that men and women are equal. It's beyond sadness. I just feel absolutely that we've let ourselves down. It would be foolish now to go ahead with this amendment."
Synod observers believe the vote is now likely to be adjourned and the legislation sent back to the bishops who meet in September. They predict that the final vote will not take place until February 2013.
Traditionalists, whom the concession was meant to placate, say they will also oppose it, arguing that it doesn't go far enough. The Rev Rod Thomas, chairman of the church campaign group Reform, said the amendments had "not succeeded in persuading our members there is a secure future for those who cannot in conscience accept the oversight of women as bishops". He urged members to vote against it.
Peter Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden, appealed for support for the changes: "In my view, it's a compromise that allows both groups to walk away with a degree of integrity. Nobody wants an argument like this to carry on for another 10 years."
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