MEMBERS of the Church of England's General Synod have voted by a big majority to back a new study into the possibility of women becoming bishops.

The motion, from the Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven Judith Rose, does not commit the church to ordaining women for its top posts.

Instead it called for "further theological study on the episcopate, focusing on the issues that need to be addressed in preparation for the debate on women in the episcopate of the Church of England".

It also wanted a progress report on this study, to be carried out by the House of Bishops, to be brought back to Synod within the next two years. The motion was carried by all three houses of the Synod, by 36 to one among the bishops, 154 to 39 among the clergy, and 165 to 49 among the laity.

Among its backers was the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, a traditionalist who acknowledged in his speech to the gathering in the University of York's Central Hall that he disagreed "quite fundamentally" with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey on the ordination of women. But he said they agreed that the issue of the episcopate needed the kind of study that the motion drew attention to, though a great deal of work had already been done.

"It seems to me that in the motion before us we have an eminently sensible and straightforward proposal. It sets the proper and appropriate context for the theological study it proposes - namely the House of Bishops," he added.

Rev Rose told the Synod that she realised its subject was a significant one for the Church, though its wording was not meant to be contentious.

She said: "I hope that this motion will also encourage dioceses and other groupings to begin to debate this matter seriously, so that as a church we begin to tease out the significant issues of which we need to be aware".