The defeat of legislation introducing the first women bishops has been described as a “very grim day” by the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, tweeted his message after the General Synod narrowly failed last night to give final approval to the legislation, plunging the Church of England into crisis and recrimination.
“Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer and love and co-operate with our healing God,” he said.
The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is due to make a statement to the General Synod following the vote. He spoke of his “deep personal sadness” at the result.
The draft legislation was carried in the houses of bishops and clergy in the General Synod, but failed by six votes to gain the necessary two-thirds majority amongst lay members.
The vote was billed as the biggest in the 20 years since the General Synod backed the introduction of female priests in 1992 and comes after 12 years of tortuous negotiations within the Church of England.
Only two dioceses out of 44 in the Church of England failed to approve the legislation.
The result is a blow to Dr Williams and Bishop Welby, who staked their authority on a yes vote.
Speaking afterwards, Dr Williams, who leaves his post at the end of this year after a decade in office, said he wished Bishop Welby “every blessing” in resolving the issue.
He said: “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.
“I can only wish the synod and the archbishop all good things and every blessing with resolving this in the shortest possible time.”
Around a third of Church of England clergy are women, and they also make up just under a half of those training for ordination.
Women and the Church (Watch), the campaigning group, said the result was a “devastating blow” to the Church of England.
The Rev Rachel Weir, Watch chairman, 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.”
But the Rev Prebendary Rod Thomas, a vicar in Plymouth and chairman of the conservative evangelical grouping Reform, which recommended a no vote, said: “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.”