Church of England rejects women bishops
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In its biggest crossroads moment since backing the introduction of women priests 20 years ago, just enough lay members of England's state church went against their bishops' wishes and voted against the measure.
Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, said the church was now at risk of becoming a "national embarrassment" and that the public would struggle to understand the result.
The legislation needed a two-thirds majority among each of the three houses in the General Synod, the church's governing body.
But though the bishops and the clergy comfortably cleared the threshold, the legislation fell short by just six voters among the laity.
The bishops voted 44 in favour and three against, while two abstained (89.8 per cent). The clergy voted 148 in favour, 45 against, with no abstentions (76.7 per cent).
However, the ordinary members voted 132 in favour and 74 against with no abstentions (64.1 per cent) – six votes shy of the threshold.
The Church of England will now not be able to bring the measure back on the agenda until a new General Synod comes in 2015.
That said, the "Group of Six" – a body which includes the Church's two archbishops – could give permission to bring it back on the table in February if they so decide.
Church of England bishops were to host an emergency session this morning to consider the consequences of the vote.
"I'm hugely disappointed," Cottrell told reporters. "This is going to be very hard for people in the wider church and the wider world to understand. "I'm not sure what's going to happen next," he added.
"We need to do a lot of work to persuade the lay people of Synod that there is a way forward on this together.
"The irony of the decision we've just taken is that I believe it is the mind of the church that we have women bishops.
"There's a danger that the national church becomes a bit of a national embarrassment over this."
The Church of England – the mother church of the 85-million-strong worldwide Anglican communion – backed the introduction of women priests 20 years ago.
They now make up one-third of the Church of England's clergy.
The ordination of women as bishops had the backing of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his successor Justin Welby, who takes over the position in March.