Female bishops get thumbs up
London - The Church of England voted late on Monday to allow women bishops, British media said, despite fears the move will prompt a major split after more than 1 300 clergy threatened to leave if it was passed.
The General Synod, the church's legislative body, held the crunch vote at a meeting in York, northern England, following a passionate eight-hour debate which pitched conservatives against liberals.
The vote took place across the three houses of the General Synod. Bishops voted to bring forward legislation to ordain women bishops by 28 to 12, clergy were in favour by 124 to 44 and laity by 111 to 68.
The Church of England, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has about 77-million followers.
It first ordained women priests in 1994 amid a storm of controversy.
For conservatives, female and gay clergy - an issue which has also caused bitter splits in the church in recent years - cast doubt on the interpretation of Christianity's sacred text, the Bible.
But liberals argue it is time to take a more inclusive approach.
"It seems to me a total nonsense that the church proclaims a gospel of equality for all while seeming to categorise some of its ordained ministers as unacceptable," Reverend Ferial Etherington was quoted as saying by The Times newspaper in the debate.
The General Synod earlier rejected compromise measures designed to accommodate those who could not accept women bishops.
It narrowly rejected a proposal to create three male "super-bishops" who would have tended to those opposed to women bishops. It also voted against creating new dioceses for parishes which are against female bishops.
The Church of England's two most senior figures - Williams and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York - reportedly favoured a compromise which would please both sides.
In his Sunday sermon, Williams said Jesus was with those on both sides of the debate.
But he said he would be in favour of "more rather than a less robust" form of accommodation for objectors at the start of Monday's debate.
Sentamu, who was born in Uganda, said: "There is a wonderful African saying: 'He who travels fast, travels alone and he who travels far, travels in the company of others.'
"I would like to travel in company with everybody in the church."
A total of 1 333 clergy have threatened to leave the Church of England if they are not given legal safeguards to set up a network of parishes that would remain under male leadership.
Traditionalists now face a decision on whether they will stay in the church or not ahead of its once-a-decade get-together in Canterbury, southern England, next week.
"It is getting worse. It is going downhill very badly. It is quite clear there is a pincer movement and we are being squeezed out," Father David Houlding, a leading traditionalist, told The Times.
Even before this vote, liberals and conservatives had been at odds over the ordination of homosexual clergy since the consecration of openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in the US in 2003.
Nearly 300 conservative Anglican bishops and archbishops formed a breakaway movement, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA), after a conference in Jerusalem in June.
FOCA claims to represent half of the world's Anglicans and many of those associated with it are staying away from the Lambeth conference in Canterbury.
Some clergy had urged the General Synod to delay making a decision on the issue until after Lambeth.
The Bishop of Durham Tom Wright, a supporter of women bishops, said: "There are a lot of people both in the media and sadly in the Anglican Communion who would love us to do something deeply divisive a week before the Lambeth Conference."