Anglicans fail to back women bishops


Church of England members rejected a direct plea yesterday from the man who will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury to approve the appointment of women bishops, in a move which threatens to split Anglicans.

The reform needed to win a two-thirds majority from bishops, clergy and laity in the near-500 strong Church of England Synod, but while bishops and clergy backed it, it failed to win the necessary support from the laity.

Forty-four bishops were in favour, with three against and two abstentions, while Church of England clergy supported change by 148 in favour to 45 against. However, the vote of the laity produced a 132 in favour and 74 against result – short of the necessary majority.

Powerful contribution

Risking his influence, Bishop of Durham, Rt Rev Justin Welby, who takes over as Archbishop of Canterbury in the New Year, forthrightly backed reform, saying women priests had made a powerful contribution to the church since they were admitted to the priesthood.

“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,” he said.

Under the plan, women bishops could have been appointed, but parishes that objected to being under the charge of a woman could issue a so-called Letter of Request seeking they be ministered by a man.

However, the measure before the synod, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, could have seen a woman one day fill the role of the head of the worldwide Anglican communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Evangelical Anglicans and the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church remained unhappy even after a summer of negotiations, saying that the plans were still for “not fit for purpose” and would “severely prejudice” their place in the church.

One evangelical, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, said he now backed women bishops. “I now believe that for the mission of God to the people of England it is right for women to take up their place.”

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams also supported change, saying that a No vote would ‘not do anything positive’ for the church.

The issue has sharply divided Anglicans for over a decade.

Calling for the reform to pass just minutes before the vote was taken the Bishop of Manchester, Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, said he “had aged considerably” during the years of rancour.