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Politicians express their dissatisfaction with Synod vote

PA

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Prodding: David Cameron discusses women bishops, at Prime Minister's Questions, on Wednesday

Credit: PA

Prodding: David Cameron discusses women bishops, at Prime Minister's Questions, on Wednesday

A SPOKESMAN for the Prime Minister said this week that that the Government would not intervene in the Church's business.

He said, however, that David Cameron shared the disappointment of many at the vote on female bishops. The issue was a matter for the Church to decide, and that Government wouldn't act to try to force the issue through using equalities legislation.

None the less, Mr Cameron told MPs: "I'm very clear the time is right for women bishops - it was right many years ago.

"They need to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme. But you do have to respect the individual institutions and the way they work, while giving them a sharp prod."

Senior bishops were called to a meeting with peers and the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, on Wednesday, to discuss the implications of the vote.

Sir Tony, who acts as the Church's link with the Commons, said that he felt "extremely saddened" by the vote, which he would find almost impossible to explain to Parliament.

The meeting was attended by over 40 MPs and peers, and there was an "overwhelming sense of frustration and of disappointment", Sir Tony reported. "There was a real sense, too, that this must not be allowed to rest here.

"There is a feeling that synod is now not a parliament but a gathering of the tribes. The Church of England does not belong to Forward in Faith and WATCH, it belongs to parishes."

Although there was no sense of holding bishops to account for the Measure's failure, he said that General Synod, and the Church as a whole, needed to get to grips with how it is perceived in the wider world of Parliament and British society.

"The real risk the Church faces is of disinterest, that people will now switch off and just see it as a sect. The Church will now be taken far less seriously on issues like same-sex marriage, for example." 

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Sir Tony Baldry

Sir Tony Baldry

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Sir Tony said that, as a result of the vote on female bishops, "the Church of England no longer looks like a national Church; it simply looks like a sect, like any other sect. If it wishes to be a national Church that reflects the nation, it has to reflect the values of the nation."

Sir Tony said that the issue of women bishops could not "in any way be parked for the next couple of years or so, while we await another round of Synod elections. It must be understood that this issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

"I hope that it will be convenient for the House if I seek to arrange a meeting in the near future for concerned Members, together with the Bishop of Durham, the Archbishop-designate, to explore how this matter can be resolved as speedily as possible."

Sir Tony continued: "I suspect that there will also be those in the Church of England who will wish to consider whether the election process to the General Synod is sufficiently representative, particularly of the laity of the Church of England, as Tuesday's vote clearly did not reflect the overall and clear consensus of dioceses across England in support of women bishops."

The Labour peer Lord Adonis tweeted after the women bishops debate: "My instinct is that the Bishops should call a 'back-us-or-sack-us' synod next year, and make this a collective test of their leadership."

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said that the vote signalled that the Church was being "held hostage by an unholy and unrepresentative alliance of conservative Evangelicals and conservative Catholics.

"This will add to clamour for disestablishment; there is even talk of moves in Parliament to remove the Church's exemption from the Equality Act."

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