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Women-bishops legislation falls

20 November 2012

by staff reporters


THE draft Measure for the consecration of women bishops failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority in all three Houses of the General Synod, when the vote for final approval was taken after a protracted debate on Tuesday, just after 6.15 p.m.

Although it was carried in the House of Bishops by 44 to 3, with two abstentions, and in the Clergy by 148 to 45, with no abstentions, it was lost in the House of Laity where it achieved only 132 votes against 74, with no abstentions. Across all three Houses, 72.6 per cent of Synod members voted in favour of the legislation. Sixty-four per cent of the House of Laity voted in favour.

This result was despite strong pleas from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his designated successor, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby, for waverers to abstain rather than vote against.

During the debate, Dr Williams said that he did not want the issue of women bishops "to bind the extraordinary energy and skills" of the Archbishop-designate. Bishop Welby is understood to be taking stock and will want to listen to what the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have to say.

The House of Bishops will meet first thing on Wednesday morning "to consider a way forward", the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said afterwards.

After the vote, Dr Williams spoke of his "deep personal sadness" at the vote. "Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and of course it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness that that is not the case," he said. "I can only wish the Synod and the Archbishop all good things and every blessing with resolving this in the shortest possible time."

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, spoke of "an urgent task to find a fresh way forward to which so many of those who were opposed have pledged themselves." 

Church House issued a statement shortly after the vote. It said: "The consequence of the 'no' vote of terminating any further consideration of the draft legislation means that it will not be possible to introduce draft legislation in the same terms until a new General Synod comes into being in 2015, unless the 'Group of Six' (the Archbishops, the Prolocutors and the Chair and Vice Chair of the House of Laity) give permission and report to the Synod why they have done so."

Women and the Church (WATCH) said in a statement: "Today's vote is a devastating blow for the Church of England and the people of this country. This vote is a missed opportunity for a whole generation to see women and men sharing fully in the mission, ministry, and leadership of the Church of England."

The Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod (GRAS) said that it was "deeply disappointed that the General Synod has made a decision so out of step with the Church of England as a whole". It said that it would be pressing at every level for a single-clause Measure.

The chairman of Reform, Prebendary Rod Thomas, said: "It was as close as we thought it would be. My overall conclusion is that it is very good news for the Church of England. We have avoided what could have been a disastrous mistake for our unity and witness." He said that Reform would be "completely available for discussion" with the Archbishop-designate.

The Catholic Group in General Synod said: "We regret the Synod was in put in the position whereby draft legislation failed at final approval because it was unclear and unfair in its provision for those who, in conscience, are unable to accept the ministry of women as bishops or priests."

It called on the House of Bishops to reconvene the talks started in the summer between representatives of different groups, chaired by Bishop Welby.

The Bishop of Chichester, and Master of the College of Guardians of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Dr Martin Warner, issued a statement on behalf of the Anglican Shrine. It recognised "the pain and disappointment that this vote will bring to many, Walsingham pilgrims included". It continued: "We pray for the wisdom and humility to remain attentive to each other within the Church of England as we seek to understand how the future will unfold."

A number of bishops issued statements immediately after the vote expressing deep disappointment with the outcome. The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, said that the result of the vote was "disastrous". 

"It is amazing to me that the decision to ordain women as bishops that the Church of England agreed in principle several years ago has now been undermined for the foreseeable future," he said. "In a culture that celebrates democracy, it does seem strange that a clear minority has managed to influence the debate and elected representatives in such a way."

The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, described the result as "very unwelcome" and called into question "the process by which representatives are elected to General Synod when they are not genuinely reflecting the view of the majority".

The Bishop of Southwark has written to all clergy in his diocese, expressing sadness at the result and offering to meet them after the lunchtime eucharist on Thursday.

This is not the first time the Synod's voting system has resulted in the failure of moves for which there was a majority in favour, but not an adequate one. The Anglican-Methodist Unity Scheme, a covenanting scheme with the Free Churches, and the first attempt to pass legislation for women deacons, priests, and bishops have all fallen under similar circumstances since the General Synod was set up in 1970.

See this week's Church Times for further coverage

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