UK politician wants new vote on women bishops soon


LONDON (AP) — The Church of England should hold another vote on women bishops as soon as possible, its representative in the House of Commons said Thursday, while some members suggested stripping the church of its exemption from sex-discrimination laws.

Legislation to permit women to become bishops was blocked in the church's governing General Synod on Tuesday, a result that has drawn harsh criticism in Parliament.

"This is not an issue which can in any way be parked for the next couple of years or so awaiting another round of synod elections," said Tony Baldry, a member of Parliament who is official designated to speak for the church.

"There has to be an understanding that this is an issue that has to be resolved as soon as possible," he said in a Commons debate.

Church legislation to permit women to serve as bishops failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority among lay members of the General Synod. Church officials have said it could take five years to lay the ground for another vote, but Baldry said this should not be necessary.

"It is perfectly possible for a different and amended measure to be considered by General Synod," he said.

The church has been unable to find a formula which meets the objections of traditionalists who believe only men can be priests and bishops, without at the same time offending women by restricting their authority and status as bishops.

Frank Field, a legislator and former member of the General Synod, introduced a bill on Thursday to strip the church of its exemption from sex-discrimination laws. More drastically, there has been talk of ending the church's status as the state church governed by the monarch.

"We might, in fact, be doing the church a favor by seeking to review its constitutional status," said Eilidh Whiteford of the Scottish National Party.

Field said the church was granted an exemption from the sex-discrimination law in 1975 "on the basis we understood that they were going to sort their own affairs out."

"Any organization that thinks it can turn its back on half of the talent in the country, and thinks it will be taken seriously, needs some sort of serious wake-up call," Field said in a BBC radio interview on Wednesday.

Labour's Diana Johnson said the church had been "held to ransom by a few narrow minds" and was left "looking outdated, irrelevant and frankly eccentric by this decision."

Baldry, a Conservative, suggested that the church should reconsider how it elects members of the General Synod so that it reflects the views of ordinary members.

The Church of England is a product of government interference, established by King Henry VIII who appointed himself as head. The government still formally appoints the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the church, and 26 bishops are allocated seats in the House of Lords.

Parliament has a role in church affairs, and would have had to ratify the female bishops legislation had the General Synod approved it.