The Church of England’s General Synod has voted against a proposal which would have allowed conservative parishes to remain under the oversight of a male bishop.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York had tabled a proposal which would have created a new class of male-only bishops to oversee parishes unwilling to serve under a female bishop.
And while the majority of the Synod voted in favour of the Archbishops’ proposal it was narrowly defeated by members of the clergy, who vote separately from bishops and lay people, by just five votes.
The nature of the vote appears to indicate a certain level of unease among Synod members about forcing conservative parishes to accept oversight from female bishops.
Liberal Anglicans opposed the plan, claiming that it would have reduced female bishops to “second class” status by undermining their authority.
But traditionalists have expressed alarm at the outcome, and currently there appears to be little hope that they will be able to opt out of female oversight.
During yesterday’s deliberations on women bishops the Synod, which is currently meeting in York, approved draft legislation paving the way for the Church’s first female bishop.
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had urged the Synod to complete its deliberations.
Dr Williams said: “It is very tempting at times of stress and difficulty such as we have been through in the last couple of days to think ‘drop it in the difficult basket'”.
He added: “I do not really think that is an option.”
The legislation will now need to be cleared by a majority of the diocesan synods of the Church of England, before undergoing further consideration by the General Synod in 2012.
In its final stages the legislation would require a two-thirds majority in each of the three Houses of the General Synod; the bishops, clergy and laity.
This means that 2014 remains the earliest realistic date when the first women might be consecrated as bishops.
Earlier this year the Scottish Episcopal Church voted against electing Britain’s first female bishop.
Revd Canon Dr Alison Peden had been shortlisted along with two male candidates for the position of Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway.
But an electoral synod of 115 clergy and lay church members met at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow and voted in favour of one of the male candidates.