LONDON — Despite support of the outgoing and incoming Archbishops of Canterbury, Reuters reports the Church of England failed to approved canonical legislation that would have allowed women to be consecrated as bishops in a vote of the General Synod on Tuesday.
The Church of England’s General Synod is a three house body. It includes the House of Bishops, House of Clergy and House of the Laity. For the legislation to have passed, a two-third majority was needed in all three houses. The measure passed easily in the House of Bishops (44-3) and The House of Clergy (148-45), but in the House of Laity the majority was just four votes shy with 132-74 in favor of the measure.
“A clear majority of the General Synod today voted in favor of the legislation to consecrate women as Bishops,” Bishop of Norwich Graham James said in a statement released on the Synod’s website. “But the bar of approval is set very high in this Synod. Two-thirds of each house has to approve the legislation for it to pass. This ensures the majority is overwhelming. The majority in the house of laity was not quite enough. This leaves us with a problem. 42 out of 44 dioceses approved the legislation and more than three quarters of members of diocesan synods voted in favor. There will be many who wonder why the General Synod expressed its mind so differently.”
More than 100 members of the Church of England’s General Synod spoke during the six-hour debate in London. Many important figures supported the measure, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who is retiring at the end of December, and Bishop Justin Welby, who will ascend to the post after Williams.
One lay person, Jane Patterson, spoke up and asked the Synod not to “bow to cultural pressure.” Some members of the Church of England opposed to women bishops have left the Anglican Communion over the issue and Patter said passing the measure could lead more defections to the Roman Catholic Church. About 60 clergy, including five bishops and nearly 1,000 parishoners, have taken advantage of a process instituted by Pope Benedict XVI that allows Anglicans to convert to Catholicism while keeping some of their traditions.
In the Anglican Communion, and Church of England specifically, women may be ordained as deacons or priests. In several of the Anglican-affiliated churches, such as the US Episcopal Church, women may be consecrated as bishops. Supporters of the measure say it could be five years before the Church of England votes on the issue of women bishops again.