Women bishops: Archbishop Welby 'hopeful' on vote

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Media captionJustin Welby says he would be "delighted" to see a female Archbishop of Canterbury in his lifetime

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said he is "hopeful" the Church of England's ruling body will allow women to become bishops when it votes on Monday.

Justin Welby told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that "theologically the Church had been wrong not to ordain women" in the top jobs.

He also said that there was a "good chance" the first woman bishop would be announced by the end of 2015.

A previous attempt to make the change failed by six votes in 2012.

"I am hopeful that we will pass, the votes I think they are there. I'm not actually focused on what happens if it fails," said the archbishop.

He added that to the general public the fact that women are currently not allowed to be bishops was "incomprehensible".

'Credibility' claim

Should the proposal be voted through by the General Synod, it will mark the first time the Church has opened its top jobs to both sexes some 20 years after women were first ordained as priests.

Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, said the Church "lost a measure of credibility" over the failed 2012 vote when he was in post.

Two years on, the composition of the Synod is unchanged but four of those who voted against the proposed change then have since said they will back the latest plans - potentially enough to swing the result.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin is tipped to be the CofE's first woman bishop, should the legislation be passed

This time around the proposals - to be voted on at York University - would allow traditionalist parishes unwilling to serve under a woman bishop to request a male alternative.

An ombudsman would arbitrate in the case of disputes.

"We have moved from a rule-based approach to a principle-based approach," said the archbishop.

Outside of the Church of England, there are more than 20 Anglican women bishops in active ministry.

Christina Rees, a member of the General Synod, told the BBC the failure to introduce full equality meant there was "still a question mark over the validity of women" in the Church.

Image caption Christina Rees: 'Still a question mark over the validity of women in the orders'

But Margaret Brown - who is campaigning for less liberal members of the Church to have their own division, or province - said: "We would not have women bishops. We would not have women priests.

"We would not go down the line of homosexual practice and divorce and remarriage. We want the gospel, the supremacy of the scriptures, to come and be taught to everybody."

And Susie Leafe, from the Christian campaign group Reform, also told BBC News she did not want to see women bishops.

She said: "We are looking for the Church to follow biblical principles, that means having a set of bishops that serve the flock and are male."

She added that the Church was supposed to be a family, and that the Bible was clear in saying that "men and women had different roles to play", and she wanted to see those "theological convictions flourish".

Image caption Susie Leafe is a lay member of the Church of England's General Synod

Earlier in the week it was reported that if the proposal was rejected again, the Archbishop of Canterbury was planning to drive it through regardless, potentially by introducing legislation in Parliament via bishops in the House of Lords.

However, the archbishop has since said he could not impose female bishops and added: "It would be matter for the House of Bishops, I can't dictate it."

A spokesman for Lambeth Palace said: "We are concentrating on getting the vote through. It would not be helpful to speculate further."

Women bishops debate

  • Many opponents believe women cannot be bishops because in their view scripture says a male figurehead is required
  • Supporters of the proposal say it would create a greater equality between the sexes within the Church
  • Opponents want safeguards, allowing male priests and bishops to look after parishes which request them
  • Supporters fear such a move would mean a bishop not having full authority in her own diocese
  • Instead of writing safeguards into the legislation, the latest proposals would be guaranteed by a House of Bishops declaration, with disputes ruled on by an independent reviewer, or "ombudsman"
  • Women bishops would alter the leadership profile of the Church of England, which is central to many state occasions and local ceremonies

The simplified, latest version of the proposal was introduced to the General Synod last year.

A "yes" vote would be likely to deepen divisions in the Church over the issue as some of its members already dispute the authority of women priests.

Under the plans, a woman bishop would be able to ordain priests which some opponents say is not only unacceptable but theologically impossible.

Church leaders, including the archbishop, have spoken of the potential disaster to its reputation if the legislation fails again.

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said proponents of the change claim the Church of England's status as the established or state Church might be put at risk.

If the plan is approved, it would then go to the ecclesiastical committee of Parliament and the House of Commons and House of Lords.

The General Synod would then meet on 17 November to announce formally that women can be bishops.