Amid loud sighs of relief in many quarters, and muffled moans from a traditionalist minority, the Church of England has cleared the last procedural obstacle to the appointment of women bishops. At a meeting on Monday of the church’s General Synod, only around 30 of the 480 people present raised their hands against the necessary change in canon law. This means that a woman could be wearing episcopal purple by the end of the year, and a lady could join the ranks of the “lords spiritual”””Anglican prelates who sit in the upper chamber of Parliament””by next spring.
This was a big but expected landmark; a Synod vote two years ago, in which the measure narrowly failed to gain the approval of lay delegates, looks in retrospect like a rather weird anomaly. The change was overwhelmingly favoured by the leadership of the church, the clergy (one-third of which is female), and by public opinion””which matters for a church which aspires to be spiritual voice of a whole nation, however diverse or secular. The feelings of low-church evangelicals who oppose women bishops have to some degree been assuaged by a promise that one of their number will be appointed to high office; among high-church opponents, quite a few have taken up an offer to join the Roman Catholic church. So hard-line opposition to ladies in purple has gradually faded.
If this week is remembered as an important one by church historians, it may be for a different reason: it was the moment when the archbishop of Canterbury finally acknowledged that the Anglican Communion, the global family of churches numbering about 80m of which he is head, may be impossible to hold together.
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