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Final hurdle lifted for women to be made bishops in Church of England

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Reverend Vivienne Faull of York was one of Britain's first women priests. Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Reverend Vivienne Faull of York was one of Britain's first women priests. Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Getty Images

Reverend Vivienne Faull of York was one of Britain's first women priests. Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Church of England has cleared the way for women to become bishops for the first time.

The Anglican General Synod's made history with a simple change to canon law approved by an overwhelming majority with just a show of hands at its London meeting.

The watershed comes 20 years after the first women were ordained as Church of England priests.

It is anticipated that the first female bishop could take her seat as early as next year.

The change sees the addition of a sentence to Canon 33, which reads: "A man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop."

The Very Rev Dr Jane Hedges (58), dean of Norwich, is the bookies' favourite to become the first woman bishop.

Ladbrokes has offered 3/1 for the former canon steward of Westminster Abbey and archdeacon of Westminster.

She leads the Ven Rachel Treweek, archdeacon of Hackney (6/1), and the Very Rev Dr June Osborne, dean of Salisbury Cathedral (8/1).

Synod member Christina Rees, who has campaigned for women in the church and female bishops for almost 25 years, said it was a "truly historic moment", but said it was a pity that it was received in "dignified silence".

She said: "I thought we might actually manage a bit of a cheer and applause for what, after all, the church has been asking for for a number of years.

"We know the vast majority of people in the Church of England just simply can't understand why it has taken so long. "But we are here, we have done it, it is very good news."

She echoed what the Archbishop of Canterbury said regarding the time scale of women making up a significant percentage of senior posts.

Other leading candidates include the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, dean of York Minster.

Along with gay marriage, the issue of women bishops has dominated religious debate in recent years.

The first women were ordained in the Church of England in 1994 and they now make up about a third of clergy.

The plan to allow them to stand as bishops was derailed by just six votes cast by lay members in November 2012, causing shock and bitter recriminations within the Church of England and prompting threats of an intervention by Parliament.

The General Synod overwhelmingly backed legislation introducing the first women bishops in the Church of England in July and yesterday's vote rubber-stamped the move.

The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev Justin Welby said the church was starting "a completely new phase of our existence".

Speaking to reporters after the vote, he said: "It has taken a very, very long time and the way is now open to select people for the episcopacy, to nominate them on the basis simply of our sense that they are called by God to be in that position without qualification as to their gender."

He said that half of bishops could be women within 10-15 years.

"It depends how quickly people retire or die - I rather hope they retire and have a long and healthy retirement," he said.

"It has got to be 10 years, allowing for the fact that men will be nominated to some sees as well, and it could be longer. "We are working very, very hard on training and development of people, men and women, for senior posts in the church."

Irish Independent