THE Church of England was plunged into turmoil last night after a move to allow women to become bishops failed to clear its final hurdle at the ruling General Synod.
The measure, backed by the current Archbishop of Canterbury and his successor, needed the support of two-thirds of each of the three “houses” which make up the Synod.
Yesterday the House of Bishops voted 44 in favour of the controversial change, with three members against and two recorded abstentions. In the House of Clergy, 148 voted in favour, with 45 against and no abstentions.
However, in the House of Laity, 74 voted against, compared to 132 in favour with no abstentions – slightly short of the required majority. Just six more “yes” votes would have tipped it over the two-thirds mark needed.
The result will be seen as a major blow to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who lastm month launched a campaign in favour of a yes vote.
The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, also urged the General Synod to give the legislation the necessary majority.
The vote comes after a series of speakers opposed giving final approval to the legislation.
Canon Simon Killwick, a vicar in Moss Side, Manchester, and chairman of the Catholic Group in the General Synod, urged members to vote against the legislation.
“I do not believe that this draft legislation will be good for the Church of England,” he said.
“We are all desperate to move on from the sad infighting of the last few years – but this legislation does not provide a clear way forward.”
The defeat will mean the legislation will take at least another five years before it could reach the same stage for debate in the General Synod.
Last night, a spokesman for the Church of England said there would be an emergency meeting of the House of Bishops at 8:30am today in the light of the result.
Earlier, the Rt Rev Welby had told the Synod: “It is time to finish the job and vote for this measure, but also the Church of England needs to show how we can develop the mission of the Church in a way that demonstrates that we can manage diversity of view without division – diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity.”
Dr Williams said it was time to “turn a page”, adding: “I am rather clearer that a no vote would not do anything positive for our mission in this country.”
The vote was the biggest decision to be taken by the 470-strong body in the past 20 years.
The Rev Rachel Weir, of the campaign group Women and the Church, said: “We’re absolutely devastated. Not just devastated on behalf of clergywomen – obviously this will be an enormous blow, it’s awful for their morale – but it’s a disaster for the Church of England.
“We’ve spent ten years working for this legislation. There’s something badly wrong with the system.”