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 1598.


    It is entirely MEN and the Church, literally centuries later, that decided which books made canon and which did not.

    No, it was the Holy Spirit who showed people what originated in / was authored by God. Church councils only recognised what the Holy Spirit had shown churches over the years.

    Leading from God is absolutely essential to knowing God and knowing what is from Him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1597.

    'We' cannot change the script of the Holy Bible. 1 Corinthians 14:34, Revelation 22:18-20. It is not 'our' choice on what rule the Church 'must' obide by. If it does not 'suit' what 'you' believe to be right, then my friends, a good place you are not in. Peace and God bless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1596.

    Having women bishops is wrong... YOU'RE PRAYING TO AN IMAGINARY MAN IN THE SKY!!! #perspective

  • rate this

    Comment number 1595.

    This seems to show just how far behind the times the church is - how can it still even be a debateable issue? I fail to see what detrement could become by appointing women bishops. Old boys network going on here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1594.

    I wonder what the Easter Bunny has to say on this subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1593.

    I find it fascinating that Football is being openly chastised for not giving the high ranking jobs to Black people and are making an attempt to combat this, yet the Church somehow sees it acceptable to totally dismiss women. Which of these 2 "religions" is more acceptable in society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1592.

    I would just like to thank everybody for making me laugh so much with these comments. They really have made my day.

    We humans are learning all the time, look at the discoveries of the Mars Rover!! T

    hings really have moved on a bit since God was a spotty adolescent answering his parents back.

    Hang on....The Dad of God......Bible 2....The sequel!......:-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1591.

    6 Minutes ago
    How can something based on myth have any credibility anyway?

    It has the same credibility as Star Wars fans beleiving in the religion of the Jedi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1590.

    @ichabod ...exactly...ask a muslim about equality. he will look at you puzzled......thinking youve made that word up...people fussing about religion in this country and have the nerve to have a go at Christianity when we have islam here???!!!
    We're discussing the COE vote, not having a religious popularity contest..
    Maybe, one day, we will get to discuss Islam... maybe not...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1589.

    "I personally like the traditions of my church and whether that be offensive to some or not I am really not bothered."

    "it is tradition that keeps the memories of god's teaching at the front of our faith stopping them from being diluted within a modern selfish age"

    It seems to me from your two sentiments quoted here that you are a perfect example of our "modern, selfish age".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1588.

    "It clearly demonstrates how much better off we now are that the church no longer has a hand on the reins of power!"

    Don't kid yourself. You live in a country where chuch and state are not seperate (yet). Unfortunately, these simpletons do still have an influence - that is why this is headline news and it is also why there is so much vitriol towards religion on this forum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1587.

    Is it possible for an organisation that believes in an invisible pal in the sky to be less credible than it already was?

    Congratulations GS you have found a way.

    It's a miracle

  • rate this

    Comment number 1586.

    mlewis seems very angry, and not very loving to his or her fellow humans. Does mlewis represent the House of Laity that voted down the move to women Bishops? Perhaps many people have been turned off religion because we are taught that God is Love but if the actions of his followers do not reflect that then the truth at the heart of the Christian faith is compromised. What a sad day this is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1585.

    @ 1534.JamesR1701

    no it is called faith, not certainty

    as in I have certainty your comment highlights your own ignorance and faith you will one day realise your own limited understanding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1584.

    Im not normally a praying man, but if you're up there...SAVE ME SUPERMAN! - Homer Simpson.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1583.

    ''1556.vessel - I think these men are trying to appease a paganized culture''

    Paganized culture? hahahahaha

  • rate this

    Comment number 1582.

    ".. lost a measure of credibility.. "?

    Come, come Rev. Williams - how long have you been in the job?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1581.

    We have yet more evidence that bigots are in fact bigoted. Who knew?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1580.


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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1579.

    The problem with atheists is that they think that by not believing in a God makes them clever! I don't believe in God but there are many who do and are very intelligent people

    I read the God delusion and found it the most patronising piece of literature I have ever read.

    With regards to the topic why not just create a separate titled branch of office for woman that runs along side Bishops


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