Church of England has lost credibility: leader
The Church of England has "undoubtedly" lost credibility after voting to reject the appointment of women bishops, its leader the Archbishop of Canterbury said Wednesday.
- Published: 21/11/2012 at 09:47 PM
- Newspaper section: news
Two members of the clergy embrace outside Church House in central London on November 20. The Church of England has "undoubtedly" lost credibility after voting to reject the appointment of women bishops, its leader the Archbishop of Canterbury said Wednesday.
Rowan Williams accused elements inside England's state church of being "wilfully blind" to the trends of wider society after its governing body, the General Synod, failed to pass the legislation by a razor-thin margin.
Tuesday's vote followed years of wrangling between traditionalists and liberals that exposed bitter divisions in the 85-million strong worldwide Anglican communion, as well as in its mother church.
"We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do," Williams told the General Synod, after its biggest decision since allowing female priests 20 years ago.
"Whatever the motivation for voting... the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society.
"Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.
"We have some explaining to do; we have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society."
The proposals needed a two-thirds majority in each house of the 470-member General Synod -- composed of bishops, clergy and ordinary lay churchgoers -- but fell short by just six voters among the laity.
The vote was one final setback for Williams, a liberal, wordy theologian, who steps down in December after 10 years of battles to keep the Church's factions united.
The result was also a blow to the authority of his more evangelical successor Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham. The former oil company executive was named on November 9 and will be enthroned on March 21.
"There will be women bishops," he said.
"The Church has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the principle. It is a question of finding a way that there is a real consensus that this is the right way forward.
"That is going to take some time, some care, and some prudence."
The bishops held an emergency meeting before Synod resumed on Wednesday.
The proposals would have allowed a woman bishop to delegate duties to a stand-in male bishop if a parish rejected her authority.
But some supporters of women bishops voted against the proposal as they felt this plan was a messy compromise.
The Church of England will not formally be able to raise the plans again until 2015 when a new General Synod comes in.
However, there is a complex, caveat-laden back route by which the church's top ranks could revive the initiative in July next year or even as early as February.
Williams said there was no easy solution and the Church was now more polarised.
"There is no short cut, there is no simple God-given, dare I say it, solution to a problem which brings people's deepest convictions into conflict," he said.
And he warned: "There is a matter of mission here and we cannot afford to hang about."
British Prime Minister David Cameron -- himself a churchgoing Anglican -- told parliament on Wednesday: "On a personal basis, I'm a strong supporter of women bishops. I'm very sad about the way the vote went.
"It's important for the Church of England to be a modern church in touch with society as it is today, and this was a key step they needed to take.
"The time is right for women bishops. It was right many years ago. They need to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme."
Rejecting the notion of parliament intervening in the state church, he added: "You do have to respect the individual institutions and the way they work -- while giving them a sharp prod."
The Church of England, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534, claims that more than 40 percent of people in England regard themselves as members.
The wider Anglican communion's first woman bishop was appointed in the United States in 1989 and there are now 37 worldwide.
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- Writer: AFP
- Position: News agency