Women may be appointed as bishops by 2014 under proposed Church of England legislation unveiled at the weekend in a move which has caused alarm amongst traditionalists.
The Church’s legislation will be debated by its Synod in July and the earliest it could be approved is 2012.
But concerns have already been raised that the proposal will cause division.
Synod member David Houlding said: “It completely obliterates the position of anyone who in conscience can’t accept women bishops”.
“I believe it’s been designed to wipe out a sizeable proportion of the church who have been committed to the Church for centuries and who will now struggle to remain”, he said.
The Bishop of Manchester, Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, chaired the group which drew up the proposals.
It accepted the plans could be divisive, but said the proposals are “principled and pragmatic” and “endeavour to preserve that broad and comprehensive character of the Church of England”.
The Church of England also ruled out plans to introduce so-called “flying bishops” to cover congregations who disagreed with having women bishops.
Instead, parishes will be allowed to opt-out of the oversight of a woman bishop and ask for a male bishop to perform blessings and ordinations.
The group said: “The fact remains, however, that we have not been able to come up with a set of proposals that everyone now says that they can live with.
“Indeed, a number of members of the Committee have made it clear that they, like others, will seriously have to consider whether they can continue to hold office within the Church of England, or continue as members of it, if legislation of this kind comes into force.”
Three Anglo-Catholic members of the Bishop of Manchester’s group, including the Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, the Bishop of Beverley, expressed “deep disappointment” at the outcome.
“Fundamentally, the draft legislation would render it virtually impossible for anyone to live the Christian life within the Church of England, who had conscientious objections about the ordination of women”, they said.
The proposals still face a number of hurdles before coming into law.
The earliest that the legislation could achieve final approval in the Synod is 2012, following which parliamentary approval and Royal Assent would be needed.
That means 2014 remains the earliest realistic date when the first women might be consecrated as bishops.