UK & World News

  • 21 November 2012, 10:30

Church Reeling After Defeat On Women Bishops

The Archbishop of Canterbury will make a statement later after the General Synod of the Church of England narrowly voted against legislation paving the way for the first women bishops.

Dr Rowan Williams is due to speak after the draft legislation was carried in the Houses of bishops and clergy but failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority among lay members.

His statement will come after an emergency meeting of the Church of England bishops following the defeat - by just six votes.

The vote was billed as the biggest in the 20 years since the General Synod backed the introduction of women priests in 1992, and came after 42 out of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England backed the legislation.

If the measure had received final approval, it would have gone to the Houses of Parliament before Royal Assent with the first women bishops on course to be appointed as early as 2014.

The result is a blow to Dr Williams and his successor, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, who staked their authority on a 'yes' vote.

Speaking afterwards, Dr Williams, who leaves his post at the end of this year after a decade in office, expressed his "deep personal sadness" at the result.

He said he wished Bishop Welby "every blessing" in resolving the issue.

Dr Williams said: "Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and of course it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness, that that is not the case.

"I can only wish the Synod and the archbishop all good things and every blessing with resolving this in the shortest possible time."

Around a third of all Church of England clergy are women - they also make up just under a half of all those training for ordination.

Women and the Church (Watch), the campaigning group, said the result was a "devastating blow".

The Rev Rachel Weir, Watch chairman, said: "This is a tragic day for the Church of England after so many years of debate and after all our attempts at compromise.

"Despite this disappointing setback, Watch will continue to campaign for the full acceptance of women's gifts of leadership in the Church's life."

But the Rev Prebendary Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative evangelical grouping Reform, which recommended a no vote, said: "My overall conclusion is that it is very good news for the Church of England.

"We have avoided what could have been a disastrous mistake for our unity and witness."

The defeat came in spite of a series of appeals from senior bishops for the General Synod to support the legislation.