Women bishops

by
13 July 2012

THE Synod has agreed to adjourn the final-approval debate on the legislation for women bishops. It is to be resumed in November, when the House of Bishops will have had the opportunity to reflect again on Clause 5(1), as the Synod has requested.

On Monday morning, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, taking the chair, explained how he intended the debate to proceed. After the Bishop of Manchester moved the final-approval motion, he would call on the Bishop of Dover to move that the debate be adjourned and referred back to the Bishops to look again at their amendment to Clause 5(1)(c). [The amendment, with regard to the selection of male bishops or priests for parishes issuing a Letter of Request, requires guidance from the House of Bishops on "ministry . . . consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women" which were the basis of the request.]

The debate on the adjournment would continue until lunchtime, Dr Sentamu said, and, if it was carried by a simple majority, the debate would end then. If the proposal was lost, the debate on final approval would begin again in the afternoon, and continue until everybody who wanted to speak had done so, as debates on final approval were not subject to procedural motions to cut them short.

More than 130 requests to speak had been received.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, said that he had been "under no illusion about the challenging task that lay ahead" when he he had been asked to chair the legislative drafting group more than six years ago.

In light of the proposed adjournment motion, which was to follow, the Bishop said that the speech he wanted to give would be "premature", and he would seek to speak again if the Synod rejected the proposed adjournment.

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The difficulties with the legislation, he said, "centre on a dilemma which is easy to state but far harder to resolve.

"On the one hand, there is a clear majority view across the Church of England that the ministry of women priests has greatly enriched our life over the past two decades, and that all orders of ministry should now be open to women and men equally, without clarification or equivocation. At the same time, there remains a strong desire to be faithful to our heritage as a broad Church open to all who assent to our historic formularies."

The dilemma was similar, he said, to the one faced 20 years ago when considering legislation to allow women to the priesthood. "The arrangements agreed by Synod at that time introduced a degree of impaired communion into the Church of England which has been very painful for many of us, whether we are supporters of women ordination or have theological difficulties with it."

But, despite the difficulties, he said that he "continued to travel in hope", because of the progress that had been made since the Church "first embarked on this endeavour. . . At that point, many advocated the simplest possible Measure, and others wanted a third province.

"As a result of discussion and reflection, we managed to produce a Measure which includes substantial provision, supported by a statutory Code of Practice, for those whose theological convictions mean that they are unable to receive the episcopal or priestly ministry of women; but which, in making that provision, does not modify the structures of the Church of England or create two classes of diocesan bishops."

He continued: "As we enter what is now the final lap of this legislative process, whether or not it is a slightly longer lap than we had hoped until recently, let us not lose sight of how far we have come over the past few years. Let us not lose sight of the extraordinary achievement of the past two decades, and let us not lose sight of the enormous consequences of the decisions that now face us.

"It would be nothing short of tragic if the legislation were to founder at this late stage, and condemn the Church of England to a further period of debate stretching over at least a further five years, and perhaps a generation."

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott (Canterbury), on behalf of the steering committee, proposed that the debate on final approval be adjourned to send the draft Measure back to the House of Bishops for reconsideration. He told members that the committee had advised the House of Bishops not to amend the legislation, but insisted that the proposal to adjourn the debate was not made "from any sense of pique or frustration".

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He said: "It is no part of our desire to set our own judgement over against that of the House of Bishops, or to call into question the right of the House of Bishops to take the decision that they did. But the plain fact is that the amendment has caused widespread dismay among many of those who have supported the Measure up till now, including a large number of the Church's senior female clergy. Many who have previously voted for the Measure have now said that they could no longer vote for it in its present form."

He urged Synod members to consider not only what they thought about the amendments, but the consequences of forcing the Synod to say "yes" or "no" on the basis of the Measure as it now stood. "The requirement for a two-thirds majority in each of the three Houses sets a high threshold."

He acknowledged that the Bishops would need to "weigh very carefully" the impact of removing or amending the new clause on those "for whom it was a welcome acknowledgment of their own position". He suggested that a revised illustrative Code of Practice should be published alongside revised draft legislation.

Keith Malcouronne (Guildford), as a "floating voter" in the House of Laity, had consistently voted in favour of women as bishops and also for "sufficient provision" for those unable to agree. He felt that the amendment to Clause 5 "helpfully makes explicit what was implicit before". His understanding of "Catholicity" was that, "if the majority of the worldwide Church discerns that women's ordination is God's will for the Church in our times, our Anglo-Catholic brothers and sisters would welcome that."

It was the nature of "real compromise" that "no party is happy with the result." If the Synod believed that God was leading the Church to a place where women's ministry became universal, then making provision now would "over time become less and less necessary". If God was not leading the Church in that direction, then the provision enabled the Church of England to remain "connected as a branch of the worldwide Church".

He urged the Synod to proceed to approve the legislation without adjournment, and "leave in God's hands the final shaping of his Church over time". "We are not to move the pruning fork: we are the branches and he is the vine-dresser."

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek (London), held up to Synod the document "Better Together", which referred to "freedom, respect, diversity, unity". She said "Amen" to that, but wanted to see Christ "enjoined" in the leaflet, "because this is about being Christ's body, not merely an institution".

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She believed that the House of Bishops had "truly wanted to affirm that concept of better together", but argued that, "unfortunately", Clause 5(1)(c) had "attempted to put legislation in the place of grace and generosity", and was "now saying something deeply perturbing about the ministry of women and how the Church understands itself". She said that her objection was not "disregard for my fellow brothers and sisters . . . not about pushing people out or ostracising those who feel vulnerable", but was "about the whole body of Christ".

She said that she hoped that the Synod would "not do competitive pain in this debate", as there existed "a desire to act with grace and respect". The Measure, after "immense compromise", already contained recognition of the holding of theological convictions against the ordination and consecration of women, recognising that issues of headship and sacramental assurance were "a reality" for some. A bishop would have to take the needs and convictions behind a letter of request into account. It was the "holding of theological convictions" that permitted PCCs to issue a letter of request: the "content of that theological conviction" was "not actually of prime importance". At "no point" was there "any need to explicitly endorse people's theological convictions".

The amendment to Clause 5(1) (c) existed "because of fear and a lack of trust", which was a "sad reflection on the Church". It had made the "grounds of the conviction highly significant", changing the Measure to say that the Church "explicitly endorses all such convictions", she said. It would remain in the legislation "for years to come".

The Church existed "because of Jesus's mission and ministry", and "what we reflect in words must seek to bear faithful witness to the Word made in flesh - God's generosity." The words of Clause 5(1)(c) "do not reflect Christ's glory to the world". With "deep, deep sadness", she could not vote for the Measure, and urged the Synod to vote for the adjournment and return it to the House of Bishops for further reflection.

The Archbishop of Canterbury sought to explain "what was in the minds of the House of Bishops" when it voted for the "controversial" amendment. This action came, he said, from the "very deep desire" of the "overwhelming majority" that the Measure should pass "confidently".

On his part, this rested on the conviction that "we need the deepening, enriching, and humanising presence of women in the House of Bishops and in the Church more widely, and need it urgently." Nothing had made him "think again" about this "theological conviction". He hoped that when the legislation was passed it would "feel like something that the Church of England can celebrate together - something which is good news for all".

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He explained that the bishops who voted in favour of the amendment to the Measure had been persuaded that two "particular problems" remained with the Measure: they had diagnosed "unfinished business". They were not convinced that it would be carried. This was not because they had been "got at", but because of their reading of their own diocesan situations and the views of their diocesan representatives at the Synod.

First, he pointed out that theological convictions were already mentioned in the Measure; the House of Bishops' amendment was "seen as spelling out explicitly what was already there implicitly", so as to give the "required minimum assurance" to those with reservations.

Second, he explained that in Clause 2.1 of the Measure there was no reference to "theological convictions", and that there was concern that referring solely to the maleness of the bishop and no other criteria "risks something quite serious" - potentially suggesting that "what we are accommodating is sheer unwillingness to see women in episcopal ministry . . . the sort of misogyny that I would hope Synod would have no time for."

This worry was a "real concern" of his own. Although he appreciated that this argument "cuts no ice" with those who did not think that there could be any legitimate theological conviction against women's ministry, this was where the Church had been for the past 20 years. There was a danger that the Measure could be seen as accommodating "sheer prejudice" or "unthinking conservatism", which would be "offensive to women at least as profoundly as what has been suggested as an amendment".

He acknowledged that the Bishops "did not succeed" in trying to find a resolution that "everyone could be grateful for", but much of the hostile comment "seems to suggest people have not actually read the text of the unamended Measure". Some of the anger and strong feeling was "an expression of deep frustration with the unamended Measure even before the Bishops got their hands on it".

Nevertheless, he said, the reaction of "real hurt and offence" could not be ignored. Were the Measure to go through with this in the background, it would "not easily be something that can be celebrated by the Church as a whole". Bishops had "underrated" that sense of hurt and offence, and would need to "examine themselves" and "feel appropriate penitence that they did not recognise that".

The adjournment would give the Bishops a chance of "lowering the temperature and explaining ourselves". The communication of the Bishops' decision to amend the Measure had not been "ideal", and although "some" reaction had been based on "flawed communication", the questions were "real enough".

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In the light of all this, he did not "at the moment" feel that he wanted to resist the adjournment motion, although he would like to hear a long debate. He warned, however that an adjournment was "not a panacea", and should not be seen as "squaring off to the House of Bishops", but was an opportunity., "Although it might sound a bit over-optimistic", perhaps an adjournment "might be good for us". It was an "opportunity to do something better".

He was not "convinced that we were wrong in the wording we selected", but that was "a conviction that needs to be tested and discussed". If the Synod decided to adjourn, it would need to commit itself to "helping the Bishops in the task ahead of them".

Bishops were "not infallible", but they did have "responsibility for the oversight of the Church", and synodical government meant that they invited others to join them in the exercise of that responsibility. If, "by some miracle", the Synod felt that it could confidently go forward with the Measure, then "well and good".

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby, spoke in favour of an adjournment. "It is possible to do the right thing in the wrong way. At some moments, making a decision . . . is not necessarily the right decision." The amendment put forward by the House of Bishops had been done "with every good pastoral intention", but it was "perfectly clear that it has not achieved its hoped-for results".

Drawing on a model of conflict developed by Oxfam, Bishop Welby said that the Synod was in "the red zone", in which "little or nothing can be accomplished towards peace or reconciliation." Thus, "a pause of mutual listening and a review by the House of Bishops is to all our advantage, to come to a decision that reflects the view of the majority of Church of England, and also pastoral concern and love for those who in good conscience cannot accept the ordination of women to the episcopate."

Timothy Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that bishops were "not expected to be infallible, [and] can make forgivable misjudgements". Judging by pubic statements, "several substantial groups" in the Synod would "vote against the Measure as presently amended by the Bishops in Clause 5 if it comes for final-approval vote this afternoon".

If the Measure were to fall this afternoon, it would be an "unmitigated disaster": the Church would be "a laughing stock" and "denied women bishops for years and years". The Synod should "get on with" passing the legislation, but should aim "for final approval in November, when there can be greater assurance of success in the light of the Bishops' consideration. Let us not jeopardise the prospect of success by a premature final vote this afternoon."

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Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) said that Synod members should "be honest" about their emotions "and try to understand what's going on". The "blow" by the House of Bishops had had a "powerful emotional effect". After years of "soul-searching" and finding the strength to compromise on the part of supporters of women bishops, "a group of powerful men simply changed it [the Measure]. It felt like an exertion of power that resonated with my most deep and painful experiences of being a woman in the Church. . . We need an adjournment so that, at the end of the process, no one is left feeling exploited or humiliated."

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said that he was "uncertain about the value of an adjournment, but open to persuasion". He described the Measure as flawed "with or without the Bishops' amendments".

"However, I have come to believe that any legislation would be imperfect. Perhaps it is bound to be, given the different traditions we seek to hold together." He said that he would vote in favour of the legislation, and that "further delay is unlikely to make a substantial difference."

The Archdeacon of Lewisham, the Ven. Christine Hardman (Southwark), who is the Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, said: "For decades, men and women who support or oppose women's ordination were prepared to compromise. Compromise is not avoiding hard questions, hoping for the best, or papering over the cracks." She said the Bishops' amendments were "trying too hard to paper over the cracks".

She said that, before the amendment, the provision for a parish that made a request was to be taken on trust. "The new clause removes that trust. It writes into the Measure, and thus into the very DNA of the C of E and into the law of the land, not grace and trust, but a legislative wall that will permanently divide one part of the C of E's bishops from the other."

Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) thanked the Bishops and Archbishops for "listening to us". "I am a conservative Evangelical, and recognise that you have come under huge attack for the amendment that you have put into this Measure. You have faced immense pressure to uphold the principle that there should be an honoured place in the Church of England for those who oppose the principle of women bishops."

She questioned whether an adjournment would make any substantial difference, and warned that the Bishops could "replace one set of pain with another set of pain". She urged: "Let's get on now. The world is waiting."

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Canon Simon Killwick (Manchester) said that the Bishops' amendments were helpful to the Anglo-Catholic community, and had "given many the hope that they can continue in the Church of England if this Measure is passed". He said that there was a suggestion that if they adjourned and sent the Measure back to the Bishops, "everything would be fine"; but he warned that "without these amendments, this Measure will not pass. What [the Bishops] have done is just enough to ensure the Measure passes."

Some of those supporting the adjournment had said that it would be an "unmitigated disaster" if the Measure failed. So sending it back to the Bishops was a "high-risk strategy".

The amendment made explicit what was already implicit: "The Measure requires each diocesan bishop to make a scheme to provide male bishops for those parishes who make a Letter of Request. It makes no sense for a male diocesan bishop to be required to delegate authority to another male bishop. What's the point of that? It only makes sense if there is some other feature of the second male bishop."

He said that the amendment's requirement for theological conviction to be taken into account was the "missing link" that the Bishops had solved. He described it as a "saving grace", in making clear that the issue was about theological conviction rather than misogyny.

The Archdeacon of Nottingham, the Ven. Peter Hill (Southwell & Nottingham), said that he was "concerned we will be in no better a place in November if the Bishops are asked to think again. Resolve could harden in some directions." He thanked the Bishops "for doing their job, and giving us a lead". Those who felt in conscience that they could not remain in the Church without provision must be offered "a gift" to remain in the Church. "If it isn't 5(1)(c), let us pray for the Bishops in their leadership as a focus of unity to bring us something that will better do that."

Anne Martin (Guildford) said that her "greatest fear is that we do not adjourn, we proceed, and the legislation is lost. For me that would be the greatest disaster. There is no guarantee that, if the legislation is lost and we start again, what comes back is any better." Mrs Martin called on the Synod to vote for the adjournment.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells), the Vice-Chairman of the House of Laity, asked for a "reality check, so everyone can focus on the ends we want to achieve". The Synod had started off with "three ends": the introduction of women bishops, provision for those who could not in conscience accept them, and to maintain the maximum level of unity. "A fourth end has arisen recently: that is, that we should do it this year and not delay any longer."

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Mr Hind asked whether the Synod was "actually committed to this. If we are convinced that we do not want perpetual ping-ponging, we can only achieve this if we vote 'yes' to some legislation this year, either today or in November."

Mr Hind said that there was a "slight danger" that, if there was an adjournment, "we will have to rely on the House of Bishops being very insightful in the changes they make. I believe in the God of redemption, and therefore we must have confidence in them."

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, told the Synod that he had voted in favour of the amendments to the legislation, which had "more adequately" safeguarded the place of traditional Catholics and Evangelicals. The "theological convictions" of traditionalists were "not innovations, but historically anchored, and we cannot ignore that". Dr Rowell hoped that the Synod would "reject an adjournment if it has the purpose of asking the House of Bishops to draw back in any way from what this amendment was intended to provide".

Lorna Ashworth (Chichester) said that she believed that "the whole point of the adjournment with regards to 5(1)(c) is to remove those few words that for certain motley groups legitimise the theological conviction of traditionalists." She found it "ironic" that "a certain lobby group criticises the House of Bishop for being a powerful group of men meeting in private". But the group would not be happy if Mrs Ashworth, who held traditional views, were a member of the House of Bishops. "So there: not just any woman will do," she said, to laughter. "There is not just one group of women in this chamber, with one voice."

Mrs Ashworth called on the Synod "not [to] insult the House of Bishops by suggesting that they've been sleeping during this debate during the last few years. They've heard, and they've made a valiant effort towards inclusivity. Can we just forget adjournment?"

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), argued that the House of Bishops was "not without emotional intelligence". Although they had believed the amendment to be "worth while", they had recognised that "there might be consequences." Nevertheless, clarification, as sought by 5(1)(c), was "needed".

Without being specific about theological convictions, a "potential can of worms" might be opened. Churches could use Clause 3 in future as a means of trying to get an alternative bishop because they did not like the one that they had. While acknowledging that the amendment was putting on the face of the Measure "something which says something about the ministry of women", and that this was a "difficult thing", there was "an honesty about the fact that we are being specific".

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This was not a question of "misogyny" or "taint", and conservative Evangelicals and traditional Catholics were "acting out of what they believe to be theological convictions". It was thus important to say something about how to deal with this. He argued that if the Synod wanted "a completely free run for women bishops", it would have to "start again". But "that is now where we have got to."

He was therefore "not necessarily minded" to vote for the adjournment. If the Measure was sent back, the Synod must recognise that "we still have to find a way of identifying the sort of ways in which provision will be made." Although the Archdeacon of Hackney had suggested that grace and trust were sufficient, he argued that this was not necessarily the case in a Church with a legal framework. He was seeking something that would "give reassurance" to those who could not support women bishops "that they really are being listened to and not just cast aside".

Christina Rees (St Albans) agreed with others that 5(1)(c) was saying what was "already implicit" in the Measure. But she argued that putting it in on the face of the Measure made it part of English law. She did not want the Synod to ratify a law containing "that type of phraseology and the implication about what it says about women" in English law. Nor did she wish to ask the Queen to put her Royal Assent to such a law.

She referred to the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews, a bishop in Canada, who had worked with those who could not accept her ministry without any laws written about it. Her "really quite radical approach" required going to those who could not accept her ministry and asking "Who do you want?" These relationships "deepened, broadened, and bore fruit".

She hoped that the Measure would be sent back to the Bishops "without any edge at all", and that they would withdraw from it a phrase that would become the law of the land, and place it in a Code of Practice.

Canon David Felix (Chester) argued that, given the Southwark amendment of the February Synod meeting, which asked them to "do something not substantial", the Bishops had "done their job". It gave "dignity" to the position of those who could not accept the ministry of women, who were, after all, "in the numerical majority of episcopal worldwide Christendom". He opposed the adjournment.

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Emma Forward (Exeter) spoke about the concerns of a "significant" group of people within the Church who were "profoundly worried" about the potential of the adjournment - those with theological convictions against women bishops. Clause 5(1)(c) had "immense significance" for the vision of the future of the Church. The question was: "Do we seriously consider Anglo-Catholics and traditional Evangelicals deserve any kind of future?" The Synod must be honest about this. Clause 5(1)(c) was "the only thing on the table that offers them a potential for a future beyond a few years". It was the "oxygen of life" for these people. To try to eliminate it would be to say that "we don't want them to have oxygen," and "allow them to die out."

Canon Celia Thomson (Gloucester) said that her favourite Christmas carol was "Joy to the world"; but when she saw the Bishops' amendments, they took all her joy away. "Never, in my experience, has the Church been so out of touch with the good news of the Kingdom for the people of this country. So many people, men and women, lay and ordained, in and outside the Church, have said you can't go ahead with this legislation and make those words about women in the primary law of the land."

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, said that there was "no way that I am going to be able to explain to the Commons that, when this Church had voted by 42 dioceses to two, it was not possible for the Synod to manage to develop a Measure which commands the support of the whole Synod; and in particular commands the support of those who campaign for such a Measure".

He said that Parliamentarians were familiar with the concept of "ping-pong" when the Commons and Lords could not agree; and suggested that during an adjournment "the usual channels" should "use the space and time to resolve the outstanding differences".

He warned that if the vote resulted in a "train crash", it would make his task of maintaining bishops in the Second Chamber "infinitely more difficult, if not impossible", as the Commons debated House of Lords reform.

The Revd Philip North (London) urged the Synod to resist an adjournment, for the sake of those for whom the Bishops' amendment was a lifeline. He said that, for this group, an adjournment could be seen only as threatening. "We do not believe in taint. We never have, and can only apologise if that's the impression we have given."

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He said he was grateful to the Bishops for the lifeline; and asked the Synod: "Do you have room in your hearts for us?"

Hannah Page (Church of England Youth Council) asked where the joy and excitement that usually surrounded the debate had gone. She urged the Synod to vote for an adjournment so that joy and excitement could surround the passing of the Measure - something that would not happen if the Measure was passed today. She said she looked forward to the time when the phrase "women bishops" would be a term of the past; and that "they would all be just bishops."

Jane Patterson (Sheffield) said that she was "deeply grateful to the House of Bishops for amending the draft Measure". The Bishops had "demonstrated they are mindful of the majority desire to consecrate women bishops, but also to provide for the significant number who cannot accept the legislation for theological reasons".

Miss Patterson pleaded with the Synod to "humbly acknowledge before our God . . . that there is no perfect legal solution. An adjournment now will not change this reality: please let us vote on the legislation as it stands today."

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, said that he had "voted consistently for the consecration of women and against all amendments" to the draft Measure. "I fear that the more complex the Measure, the more it will sap the energy of the Church of the future as we have to deal with clergy deployment, pastoral reorganisations, and parish share."

The Code of Practice, however, "must embed both justice and generosity into every diocese . . . so traditional Catholics and conservative Evangelicals can flourish with us all in the mission of God."

As the amendment stood, Bishop Jones said, it "has the potential to introduce into English law the principle of discriminating not just against consecrating women but consecrating men implicated in the ordaining of women. . . I find myself disturbed by that prospect."

Bishop Jones said that he supported the move to adjourn so "that more work can be done".

The Revd Jonathan Clark (Ripon & Leeds) said that members were "deeply frustrated that it looks like we're not going to vote for it [the Measure] today". Ping-pong was supposed to be a quick game, and Mr Clark "would love it if it could happen today. We're so close."

The Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett (Northern Suffragans), said that he was one of many people "who could not support the legislation, whatever changes are made to it, because we do not believe that admission of women in the episcopate is the mind of our Lord for the Church". But to the question whether the legislation could enable traditionalists to remain Anglicans, "I find myself increasingly having to answer 'yes'. Many in the Catholic tradition are saying that these changes would help immensely."

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Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) welcomed the adjournment motion and said that she would be voting in favour of it. "Like most members of Synod, I'm 100 per cent committed to making pastoral provision for those who cannot accept the episcopal ministry of women, but it cannot be done in this way.

"We would be voting into English law a Measure which states that the ministry of women is objectively dangerous. . . That is entirely different from wishing to make space for traditionalists. The Church's exemption from the Equality Act "does not give us blanket permission to treat women in any way we please".

The Synod voted to close the debate on the adjournment, and Dr Sentamu told the Synod that the result of the vote would be received in silence. The motion was carried by 288 to 144, with 15 recorded abstentions.

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