The Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that the Church of England has a “lot of explaining” to do after the General Synod rejected legislation introducing the first women bishops.
Dr Rowan Williams said the Church had “undoubtedly” lost a “measure of credibility” in wider society following the defeat of the legislation.
He told the General Synod: “We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do.
“Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, 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.”
Dr Williams said the General Synod would be under scrutiny following the defeat of the legislation.
The vote on Tuesday night came in spite of 42 out of 44 dioceses in the Church of England backing the legislation.
Dr Williams said the Church of England “rightly” insisted on a high level of consent for change.
“Failure to secure a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity does not mean that those high levels of consent are necessarily wrong; they do mean that there is a great deal of further work to do done,” he said.
“But that sense of Synod which, for admirable, praiseworthy reasons, gives very strong voice to minority, that sense of Synod needs some explaining and some exploring if it is not simply to be seen as a holding to hostage of Synod by certain groups. That’s part of the explaining we need to do.”
Downing Street said Prime Minister David Cameron shared the disappointment at the result but stressed that it was a decision for the Church rather than Government or Parliament.
His spokesman said: “His personal view is that there should be women bishops and he shares the disappointment of the Archbishop that the Synod was unable to take this forward.
“But it’s for the Church to make a decision on.”
Dr Williams said there had been both “realism” and “unrealism” in the debate at the General Synod.
He warned against believing there was an easy solution to the issue. “The idea that there is a readily available formula just around the corner is in my view an illusion,” he said.
“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.
He added: “Yesterday did nothing to make polarisation in our Church less likely.”
He called on the General Synod to “hold back” from recriminations over the issue.
Dr Williams said there was “clearly a case” for not losing momentum on discussions about women bishops.
He warned against the temptation to “park” the issue of women bishops. “Every day that we fail to resolve this issue to our satisfaction, the satisfaction of the Church of England, is a day when our credibility in the public eye is likely to diminish,” he said.
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 women priests.
The result is a blow to Dr Williams and the Rt Rev Justin Welby, his successor, who staked their authority on a yes vote. There was also shock and anger amongst campaigners for women bishops.
Bishop Welby tweeted that it was a “very grim” day for the Church of England.