Women bishops: Church has 'lost credibility' says Rowan Williams


Archbishop Rowan Williams: "It seems we are wilfully blind"

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The Church of England has "lost a measure of credibility" after rejecting the introduction of women bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

The Most Reverend Rowan Williams told the ruling general synod that the Church could be seen as "wilfully blind" to modern trends and priorities.

While 324 synod members voted for women bishops, Church voting rules mean 122 votes against were enough to block it.

However, the Archbishop of York said the principle had been accepted.

Dr Williams addressed the synod on Wednesday morning, the day after the ruling body had rejected legislation that would have paved the way for women bishops within two years.

He said: "The temptation to run around saying, 'What do we do? Who do we blame?' today is going to be strong. I hope that we will try and hold back from simple recrimination in all this.

"The work to do internally is considerable - but, it's tempting to say, that is as nothing compared with the work we have to do externally. We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do."

John Sentamu: What was rejected yesterday was not women bishops. What was rejected was the legislation.

He went on: "Whatever the motivations 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 that we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in that wider society."

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister thought there should be women bishops and was disappointed at the result of the vote, but that it was "a matter for the Church to decide".


The key concerns of opponents within the Church are over provisions for traditionalist parishes opposed to women bishops to request supervision by a stand-in male bishop.


Many outside observers, as well as supporters of the failed measure from the Archbishop of Canterbury down, say the Church has "a lot of explaining to do" following its rejection.

The minority within the Church who opposed the measure and gathered enough votes to block it in the House of Laity see it differently.

They believe they did a good job in blocking an unsatisfactory piece of legislation which did not do enough to protect the place in the Church of those who think as they do. An appeal to public opinion cuts little ice with them, for they think Christians must sometimes take a stand against the world and its beliefs.

Some synod members on both sides of the debate have called for urgent talks between the two sides to see if the measure can be improved and brought back to the synod.

But this could only mean making further concessions to the opponents, and supporters of women bishops might ask themselves if they really need to do this - or if it is just a matter of time before they can get the measure through in the form they want it.

Critics of the legislation said it did not provide enough safeguards for the objectors.

Lay member Alison Ruoff said she had voted against the ordination of women bishops in order to keep the Church together.

"There are hundreds of churches in the Church of England which are standing with us and we were doing what was right for them - it's not just me," she said.

"This is to make sure that we can walk together as one Church of England - a broad Church, yes, but we want to be there without splits, without divisions."

The Rev Prebendary Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative evangelical grouping Reform, said: "We have avoided what could have been a disastrous mistake for our unity and witness."

But the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, insisted: "There will be women bishops in my lifetime.

"The principle has already been accepted by the general synod. It has already been accepted by all the dioceses," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday.

"So what we need to do is find the legislation - 99.9% of the legislation is there - it's this little business of provision for those who are opposed."

Church rules state that the measure cannot be brought back before the synod "in the same form" during the current term, ending in 2015.

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Tortuous negotiations had taken place ... but it was overwhelmingly rejected by the very people it was intended to reassure”

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But Dr Sentamu said he hoped the Church's "Group of Six" senior officials - the two archbishops and senior clergy and lay representatives - would meet and find a way to revisit the issue before then.

"I believe what was rejected yesterday were not women bishops; what was rejected was the legislation - some people felt it was not good enough," he added.

The proposed legislation paving the way for women bishops needed to gain two-thirds majority support in each of the synod's three houses - bishops, clergy and laity - but fell short by six votes in the House of Laity.

How the General Synod voted on women bishops

The result was greeted with emotion, with some supporters of women bishops in tears.

The Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, who is the next Archbishop of Canterbury and a supporter of women bishops, tweeted overnight: "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God."


The House of Bishops is meeting on Wednesday morning to "consider the consequences of the vote", the Church's media office said.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, said those Church members who were in favour of women bishops, but who had voted against the move because of concerns over the provisions for traditionalist parishes, were central to finding a solution.

Arguments for and against


  • There is a general consensus in the Church of England, which began ordaining female priests in 1994, that the role of bishop should also be open to women
  • Women priests have become indispensable, making up a third of the Church's 11,000 clergy including in senior positions as archdeacons and deans of cathedrals
  • Some liberals fear concessions to traditionalists might result in women bishops of "second class" status


  • Some traditionalists believe that because Jesus chose only men to be his apostles, the spiritual leadership of the Church should be male only
  • Some Anglo-Catholics argue that ordaining women bishops prevents unity with Roman Catholics
  • Opponents could not simply tolerate women bishops, as they do women priests, but might have to obey them as their superiors

"There's a very big challenge, I think, to those who voted against but actually pledged themselves to see in what way they could move forward so that women can be bishops in the Church of England," he said.

The House of Laity is the largest element of the general synod and is made up of lay members of the Church elected by its 44 dioceses.

The votes were 44 for and three against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for and 45 against in the House of Clergy, and 132 for and 74 against in the House of Laity.

Christina Rees, a synod member who has spent 20 years campaigning for women bishops, said: "It feels as if the House of Laity betrayed the entire Church of England last night.

"The people, the sort of extremes in our Church - the very conservative evangelicals and very traditionalist Anglo-Catholics - have no idea how this will be read by most people."

She said she thought that, to most people, "this just looks like blatant discrimination".

Equalities minister Maria Miller said the vote outcome was "very disappointing", and showed that the Church was "behind the times", sources said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1138.

    'pagan culture'.

    I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Then again, religion and thinking never really goes that well together...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1137.

    It used to be believed that the Holy Spirit moved through the Church. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has spoken. So what will be said about Bishop after Bishop lining up to discredit what has been said, and committing themselves to change it. Questions about where unbelief is to be found are quite interesting aren't they?

  • Comment number 1136.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1135.

    Let us not forget that the C of E came about because His Maj Henry VIII wanted to bed a certain Ms A Boleyn - she was not having it unless he married her. The existing Pope, Clement VII, didn't allow 'Enry 8 to get divorced from His late brother's widow, so he threw the toys out of his cot, and made himself boss of the new C of E. Considering this is where it all started are you surprised?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1134.

    God isn't a democracy. The church's job is to relay what the Bible teaches. So its unsurprising the tradional interpretation that all priests are men has held sway. That doesn't make it a correct. The Bible was written by people inspired by God but like all writers, mistakes are made. Revelation continues. I have no problem with women being bishops and archbishops, or even pope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1133.

    1049.frankiecrisp "Religion is just a crutch for people who can't face reality. what these strange people get up to in their groups should not be news."

    It's a sort of crutch, yes, but these strange people are helping frame your laws, mate. Ever heard of the House of Lords? Bishops get an automatic seat, entirely unelected by you or me. At least the other Lords also have ladies among 'em.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1132.

    How can we pay the church to run our schools through academies if they feel that men and women should be different. I am not unhappy with the church having their own views but i am very unhappy with them been paid to educate our children and having these views

  • rate this

    Comment number 1131.

    1105. "If you aren't an active member of the C of E, or at least a practising (i.e.real) Christian, then your opinions are irrelevant"

    Whilst the job of bishop comes with a seat in the House of Lords, and that job is restricted to straight christian men, everyone's opinion is relevant. Mine is that this issue just highlights the need to separate the church from the state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1130.

    @ 1105.tigerroach

    When the church is finally disestablished, I'll happily agree with you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1129.

    `The church has lost credibility in the public eye´ ???
    It is exactly the voting lay members who rejected the proposition - the public.
    Perhaps it needs a little more time. After all, the Church of England has existed for nearly 500 years so it can surely take a couple more years for such a decision to mature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1128.

    Some are telling us to accept this democratic decision........If as we are told the measure was passed and all of the Diocesan Sunods.........How come people who want us to accept democratic decisions voted against the measure

  • rate this

    Comment number 1127.

    To many outsiders this looks like the row between the Judean Peoples Front and the Peoples Front of Judea.

  • Comment number 1126.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1125.

    The men have made a mess of it, so why not let the women have a pop?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1124.

    This is a totally unrealistic state of affairs for the Church of England.It's a pity that the Church did not recognise that women were eligible for the highest church offices on the day they ordained the first women priests.Now they need the courage to say to those who think, for whatever reason, women are not equal to men - the time has come for you to accept the Church as it now is or leave it

  • rate this

    Comment number 1123.

    Another nail in the coffin. Another example of how the church's ethics and morals lags way behind the rest of society. Belief systems are no match for doing things because they are just plain right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1122.

    Has anyone asked the Daily Mail what they think?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1121.

    Ha ha ha, what a bunch of numpties. As a free spirit unencumbered by religious dictates, I find the hypocracy fully in keeping with all the other mad religions that seek to sublimate the role of women. Hopefully this can only help more people discover the intellectual freedom of agnosticism and atheism.

    How can they get away with this under current employment legislation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1120.

    What surprises me is that other active Christian Communities in the UK have enjoyed the leadership and authority of women to the benefit of the whole Christian world. Let those protected male hegemony remember Jesus first apostle was Mary Magdalene!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1119.

    Jester Minute
    12 Minutes ago
    If you haven't seen the torrent of anti-sky fairy smug drivel then you obv. don't read a lot of posts on these HYS boards do. Implying the world will be all nice and good like the old Coke advert if we only junked religion shows just as much inane smug self-delusion as believing in some all powerful sky-fairy creator, and is no more valid a point of view. Mate.


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