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Women bishops move a step closer
The General Synod has backed legislation which could see the first female bishop in the Church of England selected before the end of this year.
In a move hailed by one member as a step towards the "Promised Land", legislation fast-tracking the long-awaited introduction of women bishops cleared the revision stage of the Church's national assembly meeting in London.
The scheme slashes the time that the Church of England consults with its 44 dioceses over the legislation from six months to three, paving the way for final approval of the legislation in July and the possibility of a woman being selected at the earliest as a bishop before the end of the year.
The move to halve the consultation period was backed by 358 members, with 39 voting against and nine abstaining.
Lois Haslam, a General Synod member from Chester diocese, speaking in the debate over the legislation, said: "I feel something like what Moses must have felt as he approached the promised land.
"We have wandered round women bishops legislation for many, many years, we are now approaching the promised land and it is exciting."
Backing fast tracking of the legislation, Christina Rees, from the St Albans Diocese, and a prominent campaigner for women bishops, said: "Taking a full six months will not help those who remain opposed in principle to having women bishops. What it will do is continue to allow the Church and this Synod to be held up to ridicule. Our credibility will be further undermined."
But David Banting, from Chelmsford Diocese, criticised the fast tracking as "unprecedented, irresponsible as well as being unhelpful."
The approval for the legislation, in a series of votes, included backing repealing the 1993 Act of Synod which provided for so-called "flying bishops" to minister to parishes which rejected women as priests.
The Act was heavily criticised by pro-women campaigners as enshrining discrimination against women but was welcomed by others as "keeping the peace" in some areas of the Church.
Arrangements for traditionalists who oppose female ministry will instead be outlined in a "declaration" by the Church of England bishops.
The new set of proposals will include an ombudsman, or independent reviewer, to rule in disputes.
Clergy who failed to co-operate with the ombudsman's inquiries could be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
The speed of progress was welcomed by another General Synod member, Tim Allen, of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich diocese.
"Women bishops are long overdue, the lamentable, stumbling slowness of General Synod in coming to a final decision on whether there will be women bishops in the Church of England has done and continues to do great damage to the mission and reputation of the Church," he told the General Synod.
"There is a pressing need for speed and I want to congratulate the Archbishop of Canterbury for so remarkably spurring on the previously sedate synodical procedures into a hell-for-leather gallop in this final furlong."
The fresh proposals follow bitter recriminations within the Church of England after the legislation failed by just six votes to get approval at the General Synod in November 2012.
Bishop James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, sounded a note of caution after the vote, saying that the legislation needed a two-thirds majority in each of the Houses of the General Synod in July to gain final approval.
"I am not in the business of counting chickens before I have got them, as it were, because we do not know how people will vote at the final approval vote necessarily," he said.
"One house failing to get the two-thirds majority can lead to the whole thing failing.
"We are hopeful that the different shape of the process we are running will lead to final approval, otherwise we would not be taking it through to that stage.
"But until the votes are actually counted, it would be premature to assume it is going to go through."