LONDON – The Church of England ended one of its longest and most divisive disputes Monday with an overwhelming vote in favor of allowing women to become bishops.
The church's national assembly, known as the General Synod, voted for the historic measure, reaching the required two-thirds majority in each of its three houses. In total, 351 members of the three houses approved of the move. Only 72 voted against, and 10 abstained.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the long-awaited change marks the completion of a process that started more than 20 years ago with the ordination of women as priests. He called for tolerance and love for those traditionalists who disagree.
"As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote, I am also mindful of whose within the church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow," he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called it a "great day for the Church and for equality."
Foes argued that allowing women into such a senior position goes against the Bible. Others warned that the church should not be guided by secular ethics.
Lay member Lorna Ashworth, who did not support the move, said the church has entered new territory. "This is something we have to work out as we go along," she said.
The Church of England represents diverse religious groups from conservative evangelicals to supporters of gay marriage.