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A group of influential MPs will tomorrow call for Parliament to intervene over the historic reform as fears grow that the Church will reject plans allowing female bishops.
The cross-party group, including former ministers Frank Field and Stephen Timms, and Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, is concerned that the General Synod, the Church’s parliament, may not pass legislation designed to end the glass ceiling for women clergy.
Traditionalists believe that a rise in the number of opponents of female priests to the Synod has improved their chances of blocking the law, which can only pass if it receives a two-thirds majority in the houses of laity, clergy and bishops.
Many of them feel that the current legislation does not provide sufficient concessions to those who cannot accept women as bishops.
However, Mr Field has tabled an early day motion, which could abolish the Church’s current exemption from equality laws relating to gender discrimination and ultimately force it to consecrate women.
“A lot of people in the house [of Commons] fear the measure will fall and we are determined not to stand on the sidelines if this happens,” said the Labour MP and former minister.
“We’re only acting because we sense there’s an overwhelming wish in the Church of England to have women bishops.”
He also pointed to figures that show that more women are being ordained now than men, and said it would be “absurd” for women to be barred any longer from the top jobs.
Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, welcomed the MPs’ support for women to be made bishops as soon as possible, but said she hoped the reform would be passed by the Church.
“I think the fact that Frank Field is putting down his motion shows a growing level of impatience for the Church of England to get on with passing legislation making it possible for women to be bishops.
“I think there’s a certain amount of exasperation at the amount of time it’s taking as we’ve been in this process for years.
“The Church has repeatedly made it clear it wants women bishops so it would be unthinkable if it were to fall at the last hurdle.”
Legislation drawn up by the Church to allow women bishops has been sent around the dioceses for their approval before returning to the General Synod next year.
Three bishops have already left to join the Roman Catholic Church and scores of clergy could follow them if the reform is passed.