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."

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 1438.

    Our local Methodist Coffee Morning sold gingerbread people in male and female pairs, thereby avoding discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1437.


    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..
    I disagree my post was obtuse. I didn't deny they were believers. I stated the truth their theories don't require the existence of a deity. Please explain why you think my post obtuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1436.

    "The Bible is clear on the matter: 1 Timothy 3:2. A leader must be a HUSBAND!!!!!"

    Thats one in the eye for Jesus then isn't it! Doh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1435.

    "Being a priest isn't a job - its a vocation."

    It's not even really a vocation - it's an indulgence. A pointless one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1434.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word....
    Not society, not the Synod, this is the Will of the Lord your God.........

    You were there in the begining, were you? You saw and heard this yourself? No, its not the will of God, its the will of men with hidden agendas who lived a long time ago who created religion to hold other people down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1433.

    @1369 sas
    It’s not a question of leaving the church (which, by the way, I did years ago). It’s a question of equality being denied a majority of the country's citizens, and that is going to have a knock-on effect on others outside the church. No woman is an island – undermine one's right to equality and we’re all threatened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1432.

    1314.Carl Pierce
    The Mars rover has potentially discovered life on Mars and the BBC chooses to give blanket coverage to the babblings of this crazy iron-age self-delusion society.
    Curioisty has "made a discovery". That's all there is to it, so far. What do you want the BBC to do - indulge us in sensationalist assumptions, or wait for the facts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1431.

    I think we must respect the members of the C of E who have voted with their hearts and their interpretation of how God wants them to think. I for one would not want to bash my Bishop if there are not going to be any lady Bishops. In fact if someone wanted to bash my Bishop because of this I would not take it laying down. Stop bashing your Bishops and let them get on with it thats what I say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1430.

    What gets re-written next to suit fashionable tastes? The Ten Commandments?

    Why not?

    They're largely nonsense anyway, and have been regularly rewritten throughout the history of the text. Abraham himself recounts them differently in 4 different passages.

    And really, replace them all with The Golden Rule and you're on far safer moral footing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1429.

    Maybe it's time for a new CofE - "Church of Equality"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1428.


    Absolutely I think less of him. It doesn't mean I still don't respect him as his work involves provable assumptions. No scientist, myself encluded, would ever state there isn't a god until proven otherwise. The would say based on current evidence there is no rational reason to assume there is one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1427.

    The Clergy: misreading society and living in 1786 since 1786

  • rate this

    Comment number 1426.

    People only like democracy when their vote wins. Now we have to have more discussions to turn the vote around to yes. What a waste of time, just pass it in law & have done with it. Meantime could be good to have a HYS forum to discuss the Israeli-Gaza crises or is that too serious

  • rate this

    Comment number 1425.

    Mess 1345
    "I am tempted to wonder what would Sir Thomas More have made of these proceedings"

    If I was a Christian I would wonder - what would Jesus do?
    Easy to answer - he`d pick the most loving person, regardless of any other consideration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1424.

    As an atheist, I don't care. Let the CofE decide what it wants however it wants, no matter how irrational either the decision or the process: let's remember that the majority voted in favour.

    As a citizen, I object strongly. Being Established, the CofE has a privileged place in the constitution. If it can't reconcile itself to the notion of true equality, let it disestablish and fend for itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1423.

    On behalf of Athiests everywhere I would like to thank the Cof E for helping our cause immeasureably
    I am athiest and you do not speak for me when you talk about 'our cause'.

    Personally, I reject organised religion as it epitomises intolerance and discrimination. Neither do I believe in any deity or spiritual way.

    But intolerance against religion is no solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1422.

    Why don’t they just split ? Religion has always been splitting , Sikhs, Methodists, Baptists are all splitters. Each forms its own religion believing that its is the only true path, a few religious wars follows and then repeat the process Lets remember that only 600 years ago the C of E was founded by that splitter Henry VIII. I don't recall his record on womens rights being up to much either

  • rate this

    Comment number 1421.

    Too much importance is being attached to public opinion in this matter when it should not even be a consideration. The will of God Has never been established by the will of the majority, which itself has never been a sure indicator of what is right. The fact that this matter has even been put to a vote is appalling. The Bible is clear on the matter: 1 Timothy 3:2. A leader must be a HUSBAND!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1420.

    Dear Religion.

    Get the hell out of my life! I do not wish to be "saved" nor do I want you to exert influence over any aspect of my life, from politics to morality.

    Until you do this we have issues, and I will continue to retaliate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1419.

    A tired old organisation, that ceased to be relevant in the modern world some time ago. That they have a say in how the state is run by government is a disgrace, and that they hold beliefs that are completely opposite to how society sees itself these days with regards to discrimination and outright bigotry, is a sad reflection on a sect that is completely marginalised,


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