The Archbishop of Canterbury hails decision to permit women bishops

Former Bishop of Durham The Most Rev Justin Welby said the measure empowering women was 'very, very long overdue'

Chris Radburn/PA Wire The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (centre) leads a small gathering through the centre of Canterbury to celebrate the tradition of pilgrimage
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (centre) leads a small gathering through the centre of Canterbury to celebrate the tradition of pilgrimage

The Archbishop of Canterbury hailed a decision to permit women bishops in the Church of England as “very, very long overdue”.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, who introduced a measure in the House of Lords allowing the change, said the acceptance of women bishops by the General Synod was of “historical significance” in the church.

Peers accepted without a vote The Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure, which is expected to be approved by MPs next week.

Speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday, The Archbishop said he hoped the Government would allow time before the general election in May to bring in legislation allowing women bishops to fast-tracked into the Lords.

He told peers: “The Measure before you today is very, very long overdue. The arrival of women bishops in this House is equally long overdue.

“Over the past 20 years, many women have given outstanding leadership as vicars, archdeacons and cathedral deans.

“Now, for the first time, every post will be open to them. For many people within the Church of England and others it has been a process full of frustration when looked at from the outside.”

But he defended the sections of the Measure that would allow members of the Church to opt out of the ministry of women bishops.

“It is not simply for reasons of history or nostalgia that we wish to remain a broad church,” he said.

“Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian message - in fact it has been said it is the Christian message.

“And it is a message that the world desperately needs. The example of being able to live with difference and yet to live in unity is called for more and more.

“We may regard other members of the Christian family as irritating, embarrassing or plain wrong - but they are part of the family and we don’t choose our families.”

The Archbishop said the General Synod did not have the power to include in the measure amendments to the law on membership of the Lords, but there had been consultation with the three main parties on the possibility of a “very short and simple Government Bill”.

“There has been solid cross-party support and I very much hope the Government will be able to find a suitable legislative slot very shortly,” he said.

Under the current system, the 26 bishops in the Lords are made up of the two archbishops, the bishops of London, Durham and Winchester and the 21 longest serving diocesan bishops.

The Archbishop said the bishops benches in the Lords would eventually include women “but that could take some time if the normal seniority system were simply left to take its course”.

To laughter from peers, he added: “We have a bunch of young, vigorous bishops who aren’t going to retire too soon. And they really don’t die very often.”

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