The Church of England's General Synod has voted to restart the legislative process to allow women to become bishops. The decision comes a year after previous proposals were rejected by the Church's parliament. A working group set up last year put forward four potential proposals to pave the way for women to be ordained as bishops.
The House of Bishops recommended that draft legislation be prepared on the basis described as 'option one', which means that all bishops will have to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate but that each diocese will have to come up with a scheme for caring for those who dissent. There will also be a process by which people can appeal if they feel they are being treated unfairly.
Final approval could be given to the new legislation by either July, or November 2015 - with the first female bishop possibly appointed by 2016. In a statement the Church of England said:
"The General Synod has reaffirmed its commitment to women bishops and called, less than a year after the previous proposals were rejected, for new draft legislation to be introduced.
"It will be considered by the Synod in November 2013, with the aim of reaching the stage of Final Approval in July or November 2015.
"This was the first time Synod members had met since November 2012, when the previous draft legislation narrowly failed to secure the requisite majority in the House of Laity, despite enjoying the support of 73% of the Synod's members overall."
The Synod reached its decision at the end of today's debate, after its members had devoted much of Saturday to facilitated discussions on the options available.
Introducing the debate, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, who chaired the Working Group set up by the House of Bishops to advise on new legislative proposals, said:
"I believe that option one, together with a mandatory mediation process and including as it does a declaration or, possibly, Act of Synod deserves to be taken very seriously as a means to provide the basis for securing the necessary majorities in the lifetime of this Synod."
Earlier legislation to introduce women bishops was derailed by a minority of lay members of the General Synod meeting in November amid widespread recrimination and anger. The bishops said the new proposals they backed - known as "option one" out of four set out by a working group - would "rely least on law and place the greatest emphasis on trust". The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, referred on Friday to the "significant absence of trust" between different groups within the General Synod over the issue. The debate comes after members held "facilitated conversations" with experts on mediation and conflict management over the weekend in an attempt to end the impasse over women bishops. Pro-women campaigners said they backed the new proposals laid out in "option one."
On Sunday, the Church of England formally said sorry for its failure to act over child abuse by Anglican priests after Synod voted unanimously to endorse calls for an apology.
It followed the debate of a report into a scandal involving clergy within the Diocese of Chichester.
Meanwhile, in a separate incident a man was arrested on suspicion of assault at the start of a General Synod service at York Minster.
The Church of England said the person involved wasn't a protester and was removed by police with a spokesman admitting "two people were slightly hurt in the scuffle".