Church of England assembly says appointing women bishops "theologically justified"

Appointing women as bishops is "theologically justified," the Church of England's general assembly said Saturday in a resolution that could bring it closer to a step sure to cause further contention among the already divided Anglican Communion.

Members of the General Synod, meeting in York, northern England, voted 288-119 in favor of a motion by Archbishop of York John Sentamu declaring that allowing women to become bishops was consistent with the faith of the church.

The issue is deeply divisive among Anglicans.

The U.S. arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church, upset many traditionalists last month when it elected the first woman ever to head an Anglican province.

The 77-million member communion was already bitterly split over the ordination of gay clergy members.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams plans to address the synod Monday about setting up a group to draft changes to Church of England laws that would allow women to be ordained as bishops.

"I must pay tribute to Anglican women who have been tested for nearly 90 years," Sentamu said. "They have kept the faith and remained loyal to the Church of England."

He acknowledged that making women bishops would strain ties with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

The Church of England began ordaining women as priests in 1994, but does not allow them to rise as high as bishop.

A final decision is not expected until at least 2012, reports AP.