LONDON (AFP) — The Church of England faced turmoil within its ranks Tuesday after its leaders voted to allow women bishops, a decision the Vatican warned could harm reconciliation between Anglicans and Catholics.
The General Synod, the Church's governing body, decided late Monday to press ahead with the legislation to introduce women bishops despite threats by more than 1,300 clergy to quit over the issue.
The Synod approved the drawing-up of a statutory national code of practice to accommodate parishes and clergy who object to women bishops on grounds of conscience.
That fell short of demands from traditionalists, who had wanted new dioceses to be created for parishes and clergy opposed to women bishops.
The Synod also rejected compromise proposals to create a new order of three male "super bishops" to cater for objectors.
The green light for women bishops looked likely to exacerbate centuries-old tensions between Anglicans and Roman Catholics after the Vatican said it "regretted" the outcome of the vote.
The decision will be "a new obstacle to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England," the Vatican said.
Roman Catholic clergy -- priests and bishops -- are all male, which the Church believes obeys the directives of Jesus Christ, whose 12 apostles were all men.
The crunch vote at the University of York followed a passionate six-hour debate which pitched conservatives against liberals and ended with one bishop in tears as he said he was "ashamed" of the Church.
The Right Reverend Stephen Venner, the Bishop of Dover, who supports women bishops, said the failure to agree to create "super bishops" meant that every opportunity to allow objectors to "flourish" within the Church had been blocked.
"I have to say, Synod, for the first time in my life, I feel ashamed," he said.
And the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Doctor Tom Wright, accused the Synod of reaching a "muddled" decision and said the debate had been held at "the wrong time."
Among the Synod's three tiers, bishops voted to bring forward legislation to ordain women bishops by 28 to 12, clergy were in favour by 124 to 44 and lay people by 111 to 68.
The Church of England, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has about 77 million followers.
It first ordained women priests in 1994 amid a storm of controversy.
Conservative members believe female and homosexual clergy -- another issue which has caused bitter splits in recent years -- cast doubt on the interpretation of the Bible.
But liberals argue it is time to take a more inclusive approach.
"It seems to me a total nonsense that the church proclaims a gospel of equality for all while seeming to categorise some of its ordained ministers as unacceptable," a woman cleric, Reverend Ferial Etherington, said during the debate.
The 1,333 clergy who threatened before the vote to leave the Church of England if women bishops were allowed could now quit ahead of the Anglicans' once-a-decade meeting, known as the Lambeth Conference, which starts in Canterbury, next week.
"It is getting worse... It is quite clear there is a pincer movement and we are being squeezed out," a leading traditionalist, Father David Houlding, told The Times newspaper.
Liberals and conservatives have been at odds since the US Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, and Barbara Harris as the US church's first female bishop in 1989.
Nearly 300 conservative Anglican bishops and archbishops formed a breakaway movement, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA), after a conference in Jerusalem last month.
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