The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly today to support the election of the church's first women bishops.

Despite emotional appeals from opponents of ordaining women to holy orders, the bishops approved, 112 to 31, a resolution pledging that "it is the intent of the majority of [the bishops] to support" the decision of any diocese that may elect a female bishop.

In the Episcopal Church, bishops are elected by the diocese, but the person selected must have the approval of a majority of the bishops nationwide.

Although women have been named to the clergy since 1976, none has been elected bishop.

Some strong pockets of resistance remain to female clergy at any level. At least 11 dioceses refuse to ordain women, Bishop Richard Trelease of Albuquerque said this morning.

One of the strongest opponents, Bishop William Waitland of Eau Claire, Wis., called for defeat of the resolution endorsing female bishops because of the "great pain it caused traditionalists."

"No one has a monopoly on pain," responded Bishop John Spong of Newark. He added that "there is a very real possibility that before 1990 a woman will be elected bishop."

In his inaugural speech to a joint session of bishops and convention deputies, newly elected Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning signaled that he will take a more activist role than his predecessor. He condemned the nuclear arms race, saying that "the production, testing and deployment of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons [is] inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Browning also said he has invited, "as an expression of our solidarity," South African Bishop Desmond Tutu to his installation in Washington on Jan. 11.