THE Church of England has confirmed that the next Archbishop of York following Dr John Sentamu’s retirement could be a woman.

Such a groundbreaking move would come only five years after the first female bishop was consecrated at York Minster, and after Dr Sentamu has served for the past 13 years as the church’s first black archbishop.

The Press reported yesterday that Dr Sentamu was going to retire in June 2020, after being given special dispensation by the Queen to serve for a year beyond an archbishop’s normal retirement age.

He said he wanted to provide the Church of England with the widest possible timeframe to appoint his successor.

Now some within the church are wondering if a woman will be appointed to its second most senior clerical role behind the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The lengthy confidential recruitment process will be led by the Crown Nominations Commission, choosing from the pool of existing bishops.

These include 17 women who have all been appointed since the General Synod voted in 2014 to allow the consecration of women after 40 years of debate and campaigning.

The first bishop was the Reverend Libby Lane, who drew international attention when she was consecrated at York Minster in January 2015.

A Church of England spokesman said the prospect of a female in the post was “entirely possible".

Amongst those said by some commentators and leading journalists to be potential candidates are the Right Rev Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London, and Helen-Ann Hartley, the Bishop of Ripon and a former senior Bishop in New Zealand.

But Emma Percy, chair of campaign group Women and the Church, said yesterday it was unlikely that a woman would be appointed because of a lack of experience amongst most female bishops.

She said many were ‘suffragan’ bishops, who helped diocesan bishops, rather than themself being diocesan bishops.

“The expectation is that it is normally someone who has been a diocesan bishop of a while,” she said.

“That said, it is a possibility – never say never.”