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 1398.

    The church of England is just a figment of a Kings imagination. Henry VIII spawned this reformist agenda and now we find the sect being driven by a feminist agenda. No wonder the true Christians are moving to Catholicism - if women Bishops become the norm then a schism will enable a majority of Anglicans to form their own sect the weakened CoE will only be relevant to females.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1397.

    Reaffirms my decision to lead a 'spiritual' life, engaged in the nitty gritty of the real world, rather than join a religion which seems to increasingly up itself, going round and round in circles, and appearing to many to be a laughing stock.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1396.

    are you people serious, i get ts the wrong decision but when it comes to religions in the UK and women's rights it is not the Churches you need to be looking at. There is much more blatent abuse of women going on in other religions but none of you have the balls to say it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1395.

    Just tried to find petition, It says it is now closed. unless im looking at the wrong one. The only other reason I can think of is that the Bishops have Vito'd any form of petition to remove them lol"


  • rate this

    Comment number 1394.

    @1377 - The Apostle Paul was really wound up by the other Disciples (particularly Peter) taking their Wives along, Book of Acts. As far as Im aware the women never preached but supported. If God was a She, wouldn't She be to busy Multitasking & having Babies or Careers or Both?

  • Comment number 1393.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1392.

    So many are saying that the Church is discriminatory. This is silly. All priests (and bishops, obviously) have to be Christians. This is lawful discrimination - and the reasons are obvious.

    Being a priest isn't a job - its a vocation. The Church won't ordain you unless it is satisfied that you have a vocation. You can't just go and get a theology degree and demand to be ordained..

  • rate this

    Comment number 1391.

    What credibility?

    It was the right decision ultimately because it reflected the opinion of the majority of Christians, whats the point of being religious if you can't use it as an excuse for bigotry?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1390.

    This is not about men versus women or disrespecting women or demeaning women, this is about what the Bible says. If we are going to ignore this, what is the point of keeping the Bible as the cornerstone on the Christian faith and I am surprised hearing women, who are already part of the Church, speaking out against the wordings of the Bible, the very book they use each day, pursuing their beliefs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1389.

    The difference between a Christian and an Atheist being 'nasty', is that I (as an atheist) don't claim that if you don't agree with me you will be tortured forever. I also don't retract the rights of people based on a 2000+ year old book written by ignorant peasants and persecute those who question it
    I find you just as tedious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1388.

    Meanwhile, in other news "Catholic teaching institute liable for abuse at school"

    Yet this is not headline news while the vote for woman to be able to become Bishop's is.

    Religion is a dangerous institution if not a mockery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1387.

    @1254 In fact, is there any religion that empowers women?

    Yep, loads.

    Egyptian Amun worshippers
    Roman Vestals
    Buddhist Bhikkhuni

    Its mainly the Abrahamic monotheists (Jews/Christians/Moslems) who treat women as secondary chattel - the property of men.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1386.

    "Loses Credibility" - hilarious statement for an organisation that is built
    around a Mythical Being who judges his subjects from a spiritual dimension in the sky!

    Is it time for society to educate its people about the sexist, homophobic and divisive morals that religion brings into the mainstream?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1385.

    Not being an Anglican, this issue does not directly affect me. However I am bemused that the synod has rejected women bishops when the Queen, a woman, has been the head of the CofE for the past 60 years. Am I missing something ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1384.

    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.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 1383.

    Sexism is as immoral as racism and has no place in any church, least of all the CofE, with its long tradition of tolerance and inclusiveness. There is no such thing as separate but equal. It's about power, and this vote derives from the misogynism of a fundamentalist minority. The CofE cannot continue as the established church with unelected male only bishops in the Lords. I'm writing my MP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1382.


    Hmm, you're sure and I've not stated either way but have intimated I would want proof. Who's outlook is more dangerous? I'm not sure I would want to live my life being of no doubt that I know what is is other's heads. Unless they were alive to ask you can't be sure and even then... everybody lies. It's the arrogance of the religious that is one of the things I hate the most.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1381.

    Feminism rules OK... oh perhaps not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1380.

    This does prove the point that Bishops should not be allowed to sit in the House of Lords. They aren't in anyway representative of our society as a whole and therefore should have no say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1379.

    So the 'traditionalists' have their victory and the church loses another generational opportunity to present itself as relevant, tolerant and adaptable. Perhaps they should launch an Inquisition?


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