The Church of England has voted to block a proposal seeking to allow women to serve as bishops after a day-long debate on Tuesday at its General Synod.
The two-thirds majority needed to pass the legislation was narrowly missed, meaning that women will not be able to join the highest echelons of the clergy. According to church officials, it will likely be a minimum of five years before a new vote on the issue can be put on the table.
The vote in the House of Laity came down to 132 in favor of women bishops to 74 against, The Associated Press reported. In a separate vote, bishops voted 44 in favor and 3 against, while the rest of the clergy voted 148 in favor verses 45 against – so although most Anglican officials were in favor of the proposal, the crucial two-thirds majority was not met, falling short at 64 percent, or only six votes.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is retiring in December, was strongly pushing for the ordination of women bishops, in what was seen as his last official petition as head of the Anglican Communion.
"It will shape the character of the Church of England for generations – and I'm not talking only about the decision we shall take, but about the way in which we discuss it and deal with the outcome of it," Williams said in anticipation of the vote. "A Church that ordains women as priests but not as bishops is stuck with a real anomaly, one which introduces an unclarity into what we are saying about baptism and about the absorption of the Church in the priestly self-giving of Jesus Christ."
Williams' successor, Bishop Justin Welby, has also supported the ordination of female bishops, and had expressed hopes that a vote in favor of the change would end decades of internal debate for the church.
Welby said the Church of England needed to show that it could "manage diversity of view without division – diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity."
"We cannot get trapped into believing this is a zero sum decision where one person's gain must be another's loss," the newly elected archbishop added.
Church officials have revealed that the debate has been the source of much turmoil in the Anglican Communion as of late, and have said that it is unfortunate that there has been so much disagreement and a failure to pave a way forward.
"Whatever the outcome, there is no victory in the coming days. It is a train crash," said the Rev. Angus MacLeay, who is opposed to the proposal.
Others, like Canon Simon Killwick from Manchester, who also opposed the compromise, said that it was "possible to be in favor of women bishops in principle, but to believe that this was the wrong legislation for introducing women bishops."
The Church of England first started ordaining women as priests 18 years ago, but even priesthood is still opposed by a minority of clergy who insist that the Bible teaches against the ordination of women – noting that all of Christ's 12 disciples were men.