LONDON - More than 1300 clergy, including 11 serving bishops, have written to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to say that they will defect from the Church of England if women are consecrated bishops.
As the wider Anglican Communion fragments over homosexuality, England's established church is moving towards its own crisis with a crucial vote on women bishops this weekend.
In a letter to Rowan Williams and John Sentamu the signatories give warning that they would consider leaving the church if two crucial votes were passed to introduce female bishops.
The church is being pressured as never before by evangelicals opposed to gays and traditionalists opposed to women's ordination.
The crisis is unprecedented since the Reformation devastated the Roman Catholic Church in England in the 16th century.
The general synod, the church's governing body, meets in York on Friday to decide whether legislation to consecrate women should be introduced, and whether it should have legal safeguards for traditionalists or a simple voluntary code to protect them.
The signatories to the letter - who represent 10 percent of all practising clergy and hundreds of recently retired priests still active in the church - will only accept women bishops if they have a legal right to separate havens within the church.
These would offer opponents of women bishops a network of parishes where they could worship under the leadership of male clergy and bishops.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are understood to be keen to see women bishops as soon as possible. But liberals who support the move have raised the stakes by saying that they will not back the change if legal conditions are attached.
They fear such safeguards would enshrine discrimination by creating a "church within a church". - The Times