November 20, 2012
Women Bishops Blocked—Barely—by Lay Leaders Despite Clergy Support
Church of England unable to muster two-thirds vote despite support of Rowan Williams and Justin Welby.
(Update: The Church of England plans to vote again on women bishops next year.)
Today, conservative lay leaders in the Church of England narrowly succeeded (by a six-vote margin) in defeating a historic measure that would have allowed women clergy to serve as bishops.
A majority (132-74) voted in favor of women bishops but failed to reach the two-thirds vote required in the House of Laity in the General Synod of the Church of England. The synod's other two bodies—the House of Clergy (148-45) and the House of Bishops (44-3)—voted by a sufficient margin to approve women as bishops. (Women are already permitted to serve as priests.) Approval in all three houses is required by canon law.
The matter may not come to another vote for five years. Some who opposed the measure were looking for much stronger language—a conscience clause—protecting those churches, bishops, clergy, and lay leaders who do not approve of women as bishops, based on their biblical and theological convictions.
The BBC reported:
The Rev Rachel Weir, chairwoman of Watch [an advocacy group], said, "This is a tragic day for the Church of England after so many years of debate and after all our attempts at compromise. Despite this disappointing setback, Watch will continue to campaign for the full acceptance of women's gifts of leadership in the Church's life." Watch said bishops would need to act promptly to offer pastoral support in the coming weeks to women clergy and others who felt devastated by decision.
But synod member Susie Leafe said the outcome was because of faults in the legislation. She said: "There were a lot of places along the way that we could have had a measure in front of us that wouldn't have been voted down, and it's very sad that this was able to go on without us facing the reality of the situation."
The Catholic Group in General Synod said "mediation and conciliation are needed so that new legislation can be framed to provide fairly for all members of the Church of England".
Both the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his new replacement, Justin Welby, favored approval of women as bishops. Welby is widely considered to be from the evangelical wing of the church. The vote took place at Church House in central London.
Church of England bishops will meet on Wednesday, Nov. 21, to evaluate their next steps.