The Church of England on Monday voted to allow its first ever female bishops, ending half a century of divisive wrangling over the role of women.
The decision taken by the church’s governing body in York, northern England, reverses a previous shock rejection in 2012 and comes after intensive diplomacy by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Ruth Gledhill of the Tablet, a left-leaning Catholic weekly newspaper, described today’s events as “absolutely huge”, adding that the “positive decision” has come after nearly a century of debate, though others are not so sure.
Critics have argued that the ruling would leave traditionalists, who believe the sacraments administered by a female priest are invalid, isolated within the Anglican Church.
Opponents have also accused the Church of England of being too concerned with embracing secular concepts such as “modernity” rather than following time-honoured theological teaching.
Some conservative catholic-minded Anglicans have already joined the Catholic Church after Pope Benedict XVI created the “Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham”, an autonomous body within the Church which allows former Anglicans to keep some of their traditions. It is now likely that others will follow.
The House of Bishops recorded 37 votes in favour of female bishops, with just two votes against, and one abstention. The House of Clergy saw 162 voting in favour, with 25 against and four abstentions. The House of Laity voted 152 in favour, with 45 against. Five abstained.
The vote passed after Anglican church leaders expressed concerns over the “modernity” and public image of the church. A series of liberal-Left bishops have led the Church of England for the past few decades, with Archbishop Justin Welby filling the Canterbury role, and John Sentamu filling the York position.
The Church of England decided that women could be priests over 20 years ago, but the issue over Bishops has been slightly more controversial as conservatives believe any priest ordained by a female bishop, including a male priest, will be invalid. A vote on the issue in 2012 failed, and led to then Archbishop Rowan Williams to claim that the church had “lost credibility”.
AFP contributed to this report