The Church of England could vote to allow female bishops for the first time in its history on Monday, ending half a century of bitter divisions over the role of women.
A yes vote by its governing body, the General Synod, could see the first women appointed to the Anglican Church’s top jobs by the end of this year.
Although the idea of female bishops was rejected in 2012, senior church figures are hopeful it will pass this time after a careful reconciliation process involving figures who previously worked to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
“I am hopeful that we will pass, the votes I think are there,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told BBC television.
Welby said there was a “good chance of the first woman bishop being announced very early in 2015, possibly been chosen before that”.
If the move again fails to go through at the meeting in York, northern England, the Church of England could be set to take drastic action.
The Guardian newspaper reported last week that options to force change if necessary are being considered.
This could include bishops who sit in the House of Lords introducing legislation to allow women bishops without going through the General Synod.
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “We are concentrating on getting the vote through. It would not be helpful to speculate further.”
Any move to let women take the top positions in the Church of England is fiercely opposed by conservative Anglo-Catholics, who believe that only men should be priests and bishops.
But some of those opposed to the measure have been involved in drafting the proposals which will go before the General Synod.