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


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

Related Stories

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.

Start Quote

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

End Quote

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1638.

    I cannot see a difference between 1/3 rd of church of england and the Taliban.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1637.

    Proper Christians will rejoice. The Church does not allow women in this role. Fads and such must be ignored.

    Rejoice in holding other people down because of some book written by men with who knows what hidden agenda they had all that time ago??

    Be ashamed of yourself, be very ashamed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1636.


    I provided an ACTUAL female disciple of Jesus that went around with the rest of them


    Anyone can become Jesus' disciple if they believe in Him and choose to start doing what he taught - that's the meaning of disciple. It doesn't mean they should be a bishop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1635.

    As the head of the Church of England is the Queen, and she is of course a woman, isn't their stance on women bishops inconsistent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1634.

    Paul in ‘Romans’ does stress that ‘everyone is to obey the governing authorities...’ Sadly these letters also have a shifty get out clause that does allow some Christians to disobey local civil laws, if they feel that it is against God’s preachings. Some Christians misunderstand Paul’s teachings as being the ultimate Christian writ. Not true Paul concepts only.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1633.

    Can only 6 members of the House of Laity overturn the decisions of 41 Dioceses that voted to support the consecration of women bishops... to say nothing of the 2/3rds of bishops and clergy? As provision for those unable to accept women bishops seems to be the issue please can 6 from both 'sides' be shut in a room until they have reached a consensus which can be passed at next General Synod.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1632.

    'Only those who are born again can ever love Him and I am so thankful that He changed my wicked heart'

    What nick were you in then when 'he changed your wicked heart' ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1631.

    Paul did NOT write the epistles to Timothy or that of Titus. Using those books as an authority shows ignorance and wilful bias.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1630.

    As a disinterested onlooker it would appear that with this the church as simply confirmed itself as an ignorant, archaic, and increasingly irrelevant 'club', happy to consign itself to the past. And once a certain generation has died off it will likely fade into genuine obscurity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1629.

    Doesn't the church fail to be relevant if she want to credible to those who do not believe in God? The church is to represent God and He is a whole lot different from what public opinion is led to believe He is like by those who bake the daily-opinion-bread. Whether women should be allowed in leadership? What about the billions of mums who are runnning probably most left-over family units on earth

  • rate this

    Comment number 1628.

    @1588 Andy

    At least they've taken away their powers to prosecute and burn those whom disagree with them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1627.

    Since when was this meant to be a 'profession'? What happened to it being a vocation? Or was that purely spin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1626.

    The Holy Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and authoritative word of God.
    By far the most important information ever given to mankind.

    -Please point out the pages which tell you:
    How to make a fire (without spontaneous combustion of vegetation)
    Make a Wheel
    Build a House
    Make Electricity
    Produce Clothing
    Distribute Food (other than loaves and fishes)
    I'll stick to reality thanks very much

  • rate this

    Comment number 1625.

    1575. dirgegirl

    And you do not have the right to force upon the Church a change in its belief system towards your beliefs, which is what arguments about sex equality within a vocation are attempts to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1624.

    1598.you must be right
    'Leading from God is absolutely essential to knowing God and knowing what is from Him'.

    Well I am aware that science denial (prevention of the human race advancing), biggotory, war, guilt, inequality etc etc are from 'Him'.

    If 'He' were real and not made up by man to contol the masses, I'd still leave well alone thanks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1623.

    Whenever church decides to follow the Bible it's more credible than less. Don't worry. ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1622.

    The Church of England as any other religion has the right to organise its affairs according to its beliefs and if they wish their bishops to be men that is up to them. However I believe the church should no longer have the automatic right to appoint 26 bishops to the House of Lords because this discriminates against women. The C of E no no longer represents modern Britain

  • rate this

    Comment number 1621.

    @1613: "If my generation is not there yet, my daughter's generation will do it. Only a few more years now."

    You really think there'll be a CofE in a few more years? I'd suggest to your daughter that she concentrates on the real world (where, mostly, her gender won't be a problem).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1620.

    Dinasaurs, all those who voted against!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1619.

    Timothy 2:11,12 states...

    "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

    'I', not God. It was a personal opinion, not a statement of policy.

    Those quoting this are following the dictates of a man, not a deity.


Page 3 of 84


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.