21 Nov 2012

UK veto on women bishops 'product of fear'

9:00 pm on 21 November 2012

The Church of England has rejected plans for women to be ordained as bishops in Britain - marking the end of a 12-year legislative process - and a woman bishop in New Zealand blames the decision on "fear".

The proposal narrowly failed to get the required two-thirds backing from church members at the general synod, the church's governing body, the BBC reports.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, says he is personally saddened by the outcome.

And in New Zealand, where women have been ordained as bishops for decades, the Bishop of Christchurch, the Rt Rev Victoria Matthews, describes the decision as a "product of fear".

"I have to admit I was gutted by the announcement," she told the BBC.

"I would describe it as more than disappointing.

"As someone who is a woman in leadership and someone who dearly loves the Anglican communion, it was quite depressing."

Grim day

In Britain, the next Archbishop of Canterbury has called the rejection of women bishops a "very grim day", as bishops prepare for an emergency meeting on the issue.

The ordination of women bishops in the Church of England was narrowly rejected by its ruling general synod on Tuesday.

The Rt Rev Justin Welby, who takes over the Church's top role next year, said the lost vote was hard "most of all for women priests and supporters".

Critics had said the change would not bring unity to the Church.

The proposed legislation paving the way for women bishops needed to gain two-thirds majority support in each of the synod's three houses - bishops, clergy and laity - but fell short by six votes in the House of Laity.

Because the vote was only lost by a handful of votes amongst lay members the vast majority of Anglicans are in favour and will feel deeply disappointed.

Bishop Welby will need all his mediation skills to navigate a way forward and to find new legislation which accommodates more traditionalists without then alienating the liberal wing of the Church.

The current Bishop of Durham and a supporter of women bishops, he tweeted: "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God."

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, who will give his farewell address later, spoke of his "deep personal sadness" after the vote.

He said: "Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and... it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness that that is not the case."

The House of Bishops is meeting to "consider the consequences of the vote", the Church's media office says.