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Church of England to vote on allowing women bishops

The Church of England could vote on Monday to allow female bishops for the first time in its history, ending half a century of bitter divisions over the role of women.

YORK: The Church of England could vote on Monday to allow female bishops for the first time in its history, ending half a century of bitter divisions over the role of women.

A yes vote by its governing body, the General Synod, could see the first women appointed to the Anglican Church's top jobs by the end of this year.

Although the idea of female bishops was rejected in 2012, senior church figures are optimistic it will pass this time after a careful reconciliation process involving figures who worked to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will speak in favour of the motion at the meeting in York, northern England, and says he is "hopeful" the vote will pass.

Other senior clergy share his view, saying they believe another rejection is unlikely following the public backlash against the decision two years ago.

The Guardian newspaper summed up the frustration felt by many in an editorial which described the wrangling over women bishops as "ridiculous".

"The long resistance to female bishops has shown conservatism within the Church of England at its worst," it said.

A string of supporters of the move, many of them younger female vicars, took to Twitter to voice their views under the hashtag #SynodVoteYes.

If the move again fails to go through with the necessary two-thirds majority in three houses of the Church of England, officials could be set to take drastic action.

The Guardian reported last week that options to force change if necessary are being considered.

This could include bishops who sit in the House of Lords introducing legislation to allow women bishops without going through the General Synod.

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

Any move to let women take the top positions in the Church of England is fiercely opposed by traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, who believe that only men should be priests and bishops.

But some of these people have been involved in drafting the proposals which will go before the General Synod.

These include principles welcomed by conservatives, including an assurance that those opposed to women bishops will be able to ask to be ministered to by a male bishop if the move goes through.

Officials hope that such inclusive measures mean the current package is more likely to pass than in 2012, when it was defeated by just six votes from lay representatives of the Church, drawing a shocked reaction from many.

Then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said afterwards that the no vote meant the Church "lost a measure of credibility" in society, while Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "very sad".

The first female vicars were ordained in the Church of England in 1994 but the issue of women's role in the Church has been debated for at least 50 years.

"The time has come now to sort it out and get on with it," said Canon Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich in eastern England, who is tipped as a potential future bishop.

"There are so many enormous issues facing our world and so much real need -- in a sense this distracts us and absorbs a lot of energy," she told AFP.

The Church of England is the mother church of the global Anglican Communion, followed by some 80 million people in over 165 countries.

There are already Anglican women bishops in countries such as the United States and Australia.

While a yes vote would not force Anglican churches in other countries to allow women bishops, senior clergy say it would send a powerful message which should prompt others to follow.

If the vote does pass, it would need to be approved in parliament and then come back to the General Synod in November as a formality before coming into effect.

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