Church votes overwhelmingly for compromise on women bishops
The Church of England's 'parliament' has backed consideration of a compromise plan that could see the ordination of women bishops by 2012.
The General Synod voted overwhelmingly for "further exploration" of a scheme that would also allow parishes that did not want a woman bishop to opt for a man instead.
Only one member of Synod opposed the plan after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, called for the body to back the proposal.
He said the church was "in schism" and the status quo was not an option.
Dr Williams said: "It is not a question of legislating for schism or providing for schism or whatever - we are there already.
"A question is how we handle it prayerfully, mindfully and decently and, I would add, hopefully."
Following the general debate, six amendments to the motion, many of which were minor changes to the wording, were defeated in a succession of votes.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said some of the proposed changes would cause confusion. "Let's get on with this," he said.
The Church hopes the Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA) scheme will avoid a damaging row and possibly a walkout by some traditionalists who believe the priesthood should be reserved for men.
Last November Dr Williams warned against internal tensions over homosexuality and the appointment of women bishops.
This came months after the Church of England decided to remove the legal blocks stopping women becoming bishops.
When women were first ordained Church of England priests in 1994, about 400 Anglican clergy became Roman Catholics.
There are now more than 2,000 women Anglican priests.
Their supporters believe it is illogical and unfair to continue to bar them from becoming bishops.
The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has expressed "disappointment" about the move on the grounds that it will damage talks about unity between the two churches.
Fourteen of the world's 38 Anglican Churches have already decided to allow women bishops.