Women bishops vote: Church of England 'resembles sect'

The Church's representative in the Commons said the matter had to be resolved "as soon as possible"

The Church of England's decision to reject the introduction of women bishops makes it look like "a sect", a senior Church representative has said.

Conservative MP Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, said he was frustrated by the actions of a blocking minority in the synod.

Tory backbencher Eleanor Laing argued that the Church's "position as the established church must be called into question" as a result of the vote.

Sir Tony said this was a "good point".

There was "overwhelming support" among members of the Church of England for the introduction of women bishops, he told MPs in response to an urgent question tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson.

'Impossible to explain'

Sir Tony, as Second Church Estates Commissioner, is responsible for taking questions in Parliament on Church matters and steering Church legislation through the Commons.

Start Quote

What has happened as a consequence of the decision by general synod is the Church of England no longer looks like a national church, it simply looks like a sect like any other sect”

End Quote Sir Tony Baldry Second Church Estates Commissioner

He noted that "94% of the bishops who voted on Tuesday voted in support of the measure, as did 77% of the House of Clergy; even in the House of Laity, 64% were in favour".

He blamed a "handful of votes amongst the laity" for the failure to secure the requisite two-thirds majority in each house of the tricameral legislative body.

"It is impossible for me to explain to parliamentary colleagues how a measure that has had the support of 42 out of the 44 dioceses failed to pass in general synod," Sir Tony said, questioning whether the election process to the House of Laity was "sufficiently representative".

Sir Tony offered to convene a meeting between concerned MPs and the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby.

Contrary to reports, new legislation on the subject could be introduced before 2015, he said.

'Stained-glass ceiling'

"What the rules prevent is the same measure being reconsidered by general Synod without a special procedure," he explained.

"It is perfectly possible for a different and amended measure to consecrate women bishops to be considered by general Synod."

Ms Johnson said it was vital that the Church "is led by the very best, not just those who happen to be male".

"There should be no stained-glass ceiling for women in our church," she told MPs.

"The Church of England now stands to be left behind by the society it seeks to serve, looking outdated, irrelevant, and frankly eccentric by this decision.

"A broad church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds."

Ms Laing added: "When the decision-making body of the established church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society which it represents then its position as the established church must be called into question."

This was "a perfectly good point", Sir Tony replied.

Moratorium plea

"What has happened as a consequence of the decision by general synod is the Church of England no longer looks like a national church, it simply looks like a sect like any other sect," he continued.

"If the Church of England wants to be a national church, then it has to reflect the values of the nation."

But he was more critical of a proposal by Labour's Chris Bryant, who called on the prime minister to bring in "a moratorium on male bishops until there could also be women bishops".

"No nomination without feminisation," he declared.

Sir Tony replied: "Of course, we could have done that if the prime minister still had control over the appointment of bishops."

Former PM Gordon Brown, the second commissioner replied, had "without any proper consultation renounced the ability of Downing Street to have any influence" over appointments.

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