Church of England edges nearer to women bishops

London, England - The Church of England cleared another legislative hurdle to appointing women bishops, but traditionalist opponents warned on Monday the move was not a foregone conclusion.

Some Anglican provinces already have women bishops, including Australia, the United States and Canada, but the ordination of women and homosexuals as bishops as well as same-sex marriages remain the most divisive issues facing the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members worldwide.

The Church of England has voted in principle for women to be consecrated, and draft legislation is currently being looked at by its 44 dioceses, or groups of parishes, as part of its long legislative process.

At the weekend, the diocese vote passed the 50 percent backing needed for it to go back to the Church's parliament, or general synod, for a final vote next year.

The Church of England has struggled to find a way of keeping traditionalist Anglo Catholics and conservative evangelicals within the same broad church as liberals who are in favour of female bishops, resulting in the emergence of energetic lobby groups on either side of the debate.

Some disaffected traditionalist bishops and priests in the Church of England have decided to leave the Church and take up Pope Benedict's offer to switch to Rome.

Conservatives say as Jesus Christ's apostles were all men and that there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops. Liberals say it is insulting not to admit women to positions of power, especially as nearly a third of the Church of England's working priests are female.

Twenty-eight of the 30 dioceses that have so far voted have been in favour of the draft legislation.

That is enough for the issue to go back to the business committee at next February's synod before going to a final vote at the following synod in July.

If passed, the first woman bishop is unlikely to be consecrated before 2014.

"We are well on our way to a set of results that show an overwhelming endorsement of the legislation for women bishops," Hilary Cotton, coordinator for the pro-ordination group Watch, said in a statement.

But a traditionalist group, Forward in Faith, said synod would be forced to look at the wording of the draft legislation again because of diocese support for a following motion, or secondary motion, calling for improved provision for opponents.

"There's a fair way to go yet I think," Stephen Parkinson, FiF's director told Reuters.

"It is clear that across the country there is unease at the fact they have been asked to approve legislation in which the draft provision is a code of practice that no one has ever seen, that has not been written.

"I don't think women bishops being approved is a foregone conclusion, I think it is fairly likely, but certainly not a foregone conclusion," Parkinson said.