The Church of England appears to be "willfully blind" to the rest of the world, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said Wednesday after the church's legislative body voted Tuesday against allowing women bishops.
"Whatever the motivations 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 that we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in that wider society," Williams said.
After hours of debate, bishops and clergy in the General Synod comfortably backed the change but lay members were four votes short of a two-thirds majority required in all three houses to pass the measure. Williams fears the church is busy engaging in a debate that mystifies much of the world, where women are seen as equal partners.
"The work to do internally is considerable - but, it's tempting to say, that is as nothing compared with the work we have to do externally. We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do," Williams said, according to the BBC.
The debate over the ordination of women bishops has been dividing the Church of England for more than a decade. More than two years ago, in February 2010, Williams warned the synod that infighting over women bishops and gay priests could result in a schism within the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church in the United States, a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, approved a same-sex blessing service this summer.
Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, where Barbara Harris made history in Massachusetts in 1989 when she became the first woman ordained as a bishop in the Anglican Communion. The Church of England is part of the Anglican Communion, an international association of Anglican churches with about 80 million members worldwide. The archbishop of Canterbury is the symbolic leader of this movement but has no authority outside England.
According to church rules, the vote may not be brought back before the synod during the current term, ending in 2015.
Some, however, remain hopeful that women's ordination is only a matter of time.
"There will be women bishops in my lifetime," Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu said, according to the BBC.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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