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Get with the programme, Church told

The Church of England has been urged by David Cameron to "get with the programme" after legislation introducing the first women bishops failed to clear its final hurdle in the General Synod.

The Prime Minister said he was "very sad" about the narrow defeat of the draft measure paving the way for women bishops in the Church of England.

The outcome has plunged the Church of England into crisis and dealt a blow to the authority of the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and his successor the Rt Rev Justin Welby.

Mr Cameron told MPs in the House of Commons that he is a "strong" supporter of women bishops.

"I'm very sad about the way the vote went yesterday and I'm particularly sad for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, because I know he saw this as the major campaign he wanted to achieve at the end of his excellent tenure of that office," Mr Cameron said.

He added: "I'm very clear the time is right for women bishops, it was right many years ago. They need to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme.

"But you do have to respect the individual institutions and the way they work while giving them a sharp prod."

Earlier Dr Williams, in a statement to the General Synod, said the Church of England had a "lot of explaining" to do following the shock defeat.

He told the General Synod: "We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do.

"Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society.

"Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.

"We have some explaining to do, we have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society."

Dr Williams said the Church of England could not afford to "hang about" over women bishops and warned against a temptation to "park" the issue.

"Every day that we fail to resolve this issue to our satisfaction, the satisfaction of the Church of England, is a day when our credibility in the public eye is likely to diminish," he said.

"We have to take that seriously, however uncomfortable that message may be.

"There is a matter of mission here and we cannot afford to hang about. We can't, as I said yesterday in my remarks, indefinitely go on living simply theologically with the anomaly of women priests who cannot be considered as bishops."

The draft legislation was carried in a vote by the houses of bishops and clergy in the General Synod yesterday but failed by six votes to gain the necessary two-thirds majority amongst lay members.

This was in spite of the legislation having been passed by 42 out of the 44 Church of England dioceses.

The vote was billed as the biggest in the 20 years since the General Synod backed the introduction of women priests.

A vigil by supporters of women bishops was held on the steps of Church House today.

The Rev Preb Pat Hawkins, a General Synod member from Wolverhampton, said she was "very sad" about the failure to approve the legislation.

"I think we need to be clear that it was not the Church of England voting against the principle of women bishops, it was voting on a very particular measure," she said.

"I believe people are very shocked and very upset. I think it has perhaps helped us to understand how difficult it is to listen to people who hold opposing views from us.

"I think, as a woman in ministry, it is of course very hard not to feel angry and upset. I think we need to find ways of processing that in a way that helps us to move forward."

Rachel Jepson, a lay member of the General Synod from Birmingham, said the defeat was "appalling" and "shameful".

"I am quite disgusted, really," she said.

"As people have said, we have waited long enough for this and there is absolutely no reason why women should not be able to take on that leadership and pastoral role."

Bishop Welby, speaking in Westminster, insisted that women would eventually be ordained as bishops despite the defeat.

He said the General Synod had "overwhelmingly" backed the idea, although it did not receive the two-thirds majority needed among lay members.

Bishop Welby, Bishop of Durham until he takes over from Dr Rowan Williams next year, said he agreed with comments by the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu.

"Sentamu has said there will be women bishops and I agree with him," he said.

"The Church has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the principle. It is a question of finding a way that there is a real consensus that this is the right way forward.

"That is going to take some time, some care, and some prudence."

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, said he was "very sad" about the defeat.

"It was my hope and that of many people that with a 'yes' vote at the General Synod the Church could move out from behind the fog that has descended upon us for the last two decades," he said.

"Sadly the negative vote is a blow both to the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury and to the incoming Archbishop.

"I fear the next decade will envelop the Church of England in a mist which will make us more and more hidden from the rest of the world whom God has called us to serve."

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