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 1418.

    As a confirmed atheist I'm not sure whether I am qualified to comment, beyond smiling inwardly at this antiquated edifice writhing in paroxysms of anguish whilst simultaneously shooting itself in both feet and the temple. The most surprising thing to me is the amount of women in the laity who voted against it. Do they really want to remain subservient to a bunch of weird blokes in fancy dress?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1417.

    Fantastic! Religion (that's all religions) continues to persecute women (half the human race). Yet more clear evidence of how religion is a force of evil. Thankfully kids nowadays are seeing it for what it is. Utter nonsense and fairy tales for deluded people who are afraid of death. It has no place in modern society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1416.

    A group of people are being discriminated against because of their gender. Fact. There is a law making sexual discrimination illegal. Fact. You can spend as long as you like debating the finer theological points but if the majority of employers in the UK acted in this way they would be running the risk of a sexual discrimination claim. How can the Church claim moral leadership after this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1415.

    Can I just say that the views of the some of the god botherers on here are truly, truly scary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1414.

    Would this be such traditions like stoning homosexuals, children, adulterers, women who are not virgins on their wedding night? Who force women to marry their rapist? Who endorses slavery? You thinks genocide is a just thing to do? Welcome to 2012, whereby your religion is being intellectually, morally and scientifically massacred. Enjoy watching it suffer and die, I know I will

  • rate this

    Comment number 1413.

    That is the point. Clearly most people 'involved' with the church voted for female Bishops? Those who are not 'involved' with the church but may none-the-less be christian and live by its principles also seem to favour female Bishops. Those of other churches and persuasions may well be laughing their socks off. As a 'card carrying' member of CofE with Buddhist inclinations, I agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1412.

    Just as I always thought, they are a bunch of Philistines. Witness their barbaric vandalism of the priceless architecture left in their care by their much more illustrious predecessors. Thoughtless hubris writ large. For example: will Christ Church Spitalfields be saved from a fate worse than dereliction? I doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1411.

    How can a vote be democratic when effectively 28% of the votes were for not approving the ordination of women bishops and 72% were (in favour).


  • rate this

    Comment number 1410.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word....

    And what was that word - Bigot? Divisive? Sham? Make-believe? Irrelevant? Superstition?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1409.

    I would say that this vote strengthens the church. For once an organisation has followed its principles rather than bow down to the cancer that is political correctness. Lets see if those people on here screaming for equality speak out against all women shortlists, I doubt it. Do I believe in god, not in the slightest. I believe in principles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1408.

    My RE teach at school singled me out when, after she asked me if I believed in "God". I said no.

    So she made me write out the bible as a "Punishment".

    If I could have her arrested now, I would. Horrid woman.

    For me, it highlights the problem with women clergy, I simply fail to understand what motivates them?

    Why do some women insist on being the pawns of men?


  • rate this

    Comment number 1407.

    "...we are the same as the worms and all the other living things out there we are born we live we die thats it..."
    And yet, you have just proved we are completely different, because other living creatures do not speak, describe, laugh, reason, love, cry or hate as humans do. These attributes are uniquely vested in human beings only.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1406.

    1347 Fuzzy..

    That`s being deliberately obtuse..really !

    What`s so wrong to modern atheists in admitting that many scientists were religious, does it somehow threaten their belief system..

    Do we think less of Robert Winston because he`s a practising Jew ?..I don`t ..

    It`s the fall out from militant atheism propogated by Dawkins...the creationists best friend, enemy of science

  • rate this

    Comment number 1405.

    The Commodore
    1Isn't this an example of choosing when to refer to outcomes as the Will of God?
    The will of god being in this case that the majority were in favour of Women bishops. That's the problem with the Christian god, he tells different things to different people and we have to sort out the mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1404.

    I am 100% against women bishops. I fail to see why the church must modernise. I personally like the traditions of my church and whether that be offensive to some or not I am really not bothered. Last time I checked membership to the church was not compulsory and if you don't like it then go and start your own church or even better claim to be be oh so smart by '100% knowing' there is not god. Ok?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1403.

    Michael Stanley

    Goddidit because there's no way Nothingdidit could ever have done it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1402.

    They might as well change their name from "Church of England" to "Christian Brotherhood of England".

    At least that way they would be in parity with other discriminatory religions.

    Time for the old fogeys to step aside and let some more forward thinking types in to the fold.

  • Comment number 1401.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1400.

    I am guessing they all `prayed` for guidence in this decision, strange how God seems to give the answer each one wanted to hear... or perhaps they prayed to different gods....or perhaps there is no such thing as god.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1399.


    He preached to a group of people who wanted to know how to pray, he told them not to repeat themselves, and to take their prayers somewhere private, not to pray en-masse and not to do so in the streets. Very few of those are followed.

    The crowd came to Christ, he did not go to them.


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