The Church of England has voted in favor of the ordination of women bishops at its General Synod on July 14, after two decades of heated debate and discussion that has provoked serious divisions within its membership.
"Today is the completion of what was begun over 20 years ago with the ordination of women as priests. I am delighted with today's result," said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans.
The decision marks a significant break with the two-thousand year old Christian tradition that is preserved by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which count for more than half of all Christians.
The General Synod is the Church’s governing body, and for the motion to succeed it required a two-thirds majority in the synod’s three houses: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity.
The results of the vote were as follows:
This shows that a total of 351 members of the Synod's three different houses had voted in favor of the measure, while 72 voted against and 10 abstained.
The General Synod had voted narrowly against the ordination of women as bishops on 20 November 2012, with the laity vote being decisive on that occasion (132 in favor and 70 against), but the yes vote this time round did not come as a great surprise.
The decision comes after years of heated debate and discussion within its fold. The Church of England has had women priests since 1994, and this already caused serious divisions in the Church. Indeed, some 4-500 priests and thousands of lay faithful decided to join the Roman Catholic Church, and many are now serving as priests, including hundreds who are married.
Even before today’s decision, already other Churches in the Anglican Communion in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Southern Africa have ordained women bishops, but the Church of England’s decision takes on particular significance because of its historic and leading position in the worldwide Anglican Communion which has some 80 million members.
Its decision marks a significant break with the mainline Christian tradition of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches which constitute the majority of the Christian community. It appears to distance even further the possibility of visible unity with the Catholic Church, something that had appeared as a real possibility in the decades immediately after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have all said that the ordination of women as priests and bishops cannot be reconciled with the Christian tradition and doctrine.
The Church of England decision still needs the approval of both Houses of Parliament. It will also have to receive the Royal Assent from Queen Elizabeth II.
This article first appeared on the Vatican Insider and is re-published here with their permission.