LONDON (Reuters) - The Church of England paved the way on Thursday for a final vote on women bishops to go ahead in July, but supporters angry at last-minute concessions to traditionalists who favour an all-male clergy immediately threatened to scupper it.
After more than a decade of bitter wrangling, traditionalists and liberals appeared no closer to finding a workable blueprint this week with the opposing sides predicting future chaos or departures from the Anglican mother church.
A rare decision by bishops on Monday to make two amendments to accommodate Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals, seems to have stoked tempers still further.
The consecration of women, along with homosexual bishops and same-sex marriages, is among the most divisive issues facing the 77 million members of the Anglican Communion around the world.
Other Anglican provinces already have women bishops, including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The next Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, will inherit these problems when he takes over from the outgoing Rowan Williams next year.
Coincidentally, a group called the Crown Nominations Commission met on Thursday for the first time in a long process to choose the next archbishop.
That women in the Church of England will get to one day wear the mitre, 20 years after it voted in favour of women priests, is in little doubt - the only question is when.
A so-called "group of six", which includes the Church's two most senior clerics, could have delayed the vote by a year at their meeting on Thursday.
But by deciding the bishops' amendments did not substantially change the draft legislation it avoided the need to go back to the dioceses for review.
If the Church's parliament, or General Synod, gives final approval to the draft legislation in July, the first woman bishop could be consecrated after 2014.
But liberals, angry at the amendments which they say create what they called "pick and mix" bishops, are looking to stall the vote or even scupper it.
The amendments would give parishes which object to a woman bishop the power to choose one who shared their theological convictions, pro-women bishop supporters say.
Some priests and laity are threatening to take the extraordinary step of invoking a standing order before the vote. If passed, synod would send the amendments back to the House of Bishops for reconsideration.
If the standing order move fails, some liberals are even considering voting "no" to the draft legislation, which would set it back years.
"I can envisage some of the supporters of women bishops saying 'sorry, I can't have this: it's better to wait, otherwise we're building up trouble for ourselves in the future'," said Sally Barnes of the pro-women bishops campaign goup Women and the Church (WATCH).
Traditionalists argue that as Jesus Christ's apostles were all men, there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops.
If the draft legislation is passed, some Anglo-Catholics could take up an offer from Pope Benedict to join an ordinariate within the Roman Catholic Church while keeping some of their Anglican traditions.
About 60 Anglo-Catholic priests and 1,000 parishioners have already moved over.
The draft legislation will need a two-thirds majority in each house of synod - bishops, clergy and laity - before it can go before the British parliament.
Editing by Jon Hemming