Church of England backs women bishops
LONDON (AFP) - The Church of England has come out in favour of consecrating women bishops, saying it was "theologically justified."
The synod of clergy and laity meeting in York, northern England, Saturday backed the majority opinion of the church's bishops by 288 votes to 119, giving the green light to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to form a commission from Monday to consider the question.
The issue, along with that of gay clergy, could prove divisive for the worldwide Anglican communion of 77 million believers, whose traditionalists are unhappy with the idea of women priests, let alone bishops.
Experts say that the first bishop to emerge from the ranks of the church's 2,000 female clergy could be consecrated around 2012, 28 years after female priests were authorised.
In a speech before the vote, the Church of England's second ranking cleric, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, paid tribute to "Anglican women who have ... kept the faith and remained loyal to the Church of England."
But Sentamu, the Church of England's first black archbishop, warned that "It would become more difficult for Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox to regard a church with women bishops as part of the universal Catholic Church."
Currently 14 out of the 38 Anglican churches in the world have approved the idea of women bishops. Last month US Episcopalians became the first to choose a female leader, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, after already causing controversy by consecrating an openly gay bishop in 2003.