Leaders of the Church’s governing General Synod begin meeting later ahead of a vote on Monday on the divisive issue.
Since the days of Jesus and his 12 male apostles, the Church has been led by exclusively male bishops, their authority handed down the generations by the laying on of hands.
There is a general consensus in the Church of England – which ordained women as priests for the first time 18 years ago – that the role of bishop should be open to women too.
Women now constitute a third of the Church’s 11,000 priests, several have reached senior positions as archdeacons or the deans of cathedrals, and there’s little dispute that they have proved their worth.
For such a profound step, the General Synod will have to support the legislation to create women bishops by a majority of two-thirds.
Each of the Synod’s three houses – representing bishops, clergy and lay people – will have to indicate that level of support.
Despite overwhelming agreement about the need for women bishops in a society where equality is highly valued, and a Church in which women priests have become indispensable, the vote hangs in the balance.
That’s because all except the most radical campaigners for women bishops accept the demand from traditionalists for exemptions from serving under them.
“High church” traditionalists share the Roman Catholic view that because Jesus chose only men to be his apostles, the spiritual leadership of the Church should be male only.
They argue that because the Roman Catholic Church (from which Anglicans inherited their ancestry of male bishops at the time of the Reformation) and the Orthodox Church cannot accept women bishops, the Church of England is not able to make such a fundamental decision.
Some say it is impossible to be sure that women can be bishops – or priests either for that matter.
For these traditionalists, if a woman presides at Holy Communion, they cannot be sure the bread and wine contain the “real presence” of Jesus.
They argue that if a woman bishop were to ordain a man, they could not be sure he was a real priest.Â [More]