Lord Carey, who first opened the priesthood to women, spoke of his ‘anger’ and ‘distress’ at the General Synod’s failure to allow women into the episcopate despite overwhelming support.
He was commenting after the Church of England’s representative in Parliament, Sir Tony Baldry, warned that it was in danger of being seen as a ‘sect’ and claimed that it had hamstrung its own attempts to resist the plans for gay marriage.
Lord Carey, who is also a leading opponent of the plans to redefine marriage, disagreed that the church had lost clout on the issue but said there was a real sense of betrayal.
‘Tony has every right to be angry, as I am, because our Church is being served by excellent women and this will be seen as a stab in the back,’ he said. ‘They deserve far better. ‘We have a system, based on a parliamentary pattern, which does not serve the Church well.’ He added that he shared Sir Tony’s ‘sense of distress’ but called for calm. ‘We have to remember that there were only six votes in it. ‘To get two thirds is a very difficult thing to do and I wonder how many political parties would get into power on a two-thirds majority.’
Sir Tony, the Tory MP and Church Commissioner, said church members would be ‘deluding themselves’ if they thought their views on moral issues such as gay marriage would be given the same weight as before. He was called to the Commons to answer urgent questions about the Synod decision. He said it was ‘impossible’ for him to explain the result which has led to renewed calls for the Church’s privileged status as the established church to be re-examined.
Echoing the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams’s warning that the decision would diminish the Church’s credibility in the public eye, he added: ‘It is a great sadness. ‘And might I just say, I suspect, Mr Speaker, every Honourable and Right Honourable Member of this House has recently been having representations by Church members on same-sex marriage.
‘If the Church of England thinks that Parliament is going to listen to them on moral issues such as same-sex marriage with considerable attention when the Church of England seems to be so out of step on others issues of concern to Parliament then they are simply deluding themselves.’
MPs lined up to question the right of bishops to sit in the House of Lords when the episcopate remains closed to women. Some suggested the Church might even want to impose its own moratorium on appointing new bishops until the crisis is resolved.
The measure to consecrate women as bishops was backed overwhelmingly by the Synod, but fell short of the required two thirds majority among the laity, where an influential bloc of conservative evangelicals have built up a strong power base.
Diana Johnson, the Labour MP who tabled the urgent question, said: ‘It appears a broad Church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds.’ Sir Tony said he was ‘quite sure’ an overhaul of how the Synod is elected would now be considered to make it more representative of the view in the pews. And he made clear that rules preventing the measure returning for several years could be circumvented in certain circumstances allowing it to be fast-tracked back onto the agenda.
Rival campaign groups are expected to be asked to meet with trained mediators, more used to working in war-zones, as part of the process. One option could be asking them to go to the International Centre for Reconciliation based at Coventry Cathedral – the organisation once directed by the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby. It was through his work there that Bishop Welby found himself held at gunpoint by African rebels.
The Daily Telegraph understands that mediation took place at Coventry in the run-up to this week’s vote. At least one group has indicted a willingness to return there or talks mediated by a senior clergy figure, possibly a Dean.
The Rev Preb Rod Thomas, whose Reform evangelical group spearheaded opposition among the Laity, said it would be ‘extraordinarily shallow’ if the Church’s decision on women bishops had any bearing on the gay marriage debate. ‘To suggest that you could make a decision about a major institution like marriage over a fit of pique would bean extraordinary thing to do,’ he said.