Ben Bradshaw criticises Exeter bishop's stance on women vote
EXETER MP Ben Bradshaw has said he is "disappointed" that the Bishop of Exeter abstained from the ballot on legislation which would pave the way for the introduction of women bishops.
Voting records show that he was one of only two bishops to abstain, with 44 in favour and three voting against.
Mr Bradshaw, pictured below, has said the Rt Rev Michael Langrish will need to "reflect on the damage" the result of the vote has had on the church and "change his vote when the issues returns in July".
The Bishop of Exeter has given full assurances that he supports women bishops, but said he feared the legislation, as it was proposed, could have led to years of costly litigation and did not go far enough to protect those who wanted to exercise "freedom of conscience".
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He told the Echo: "What needs to be made clear is that this was not a vote on the principle of women bishops. If there was a vote on that today, I'm sure you would see the vast majority in support. This was a vote on a particular piece of legislation, in particular on how freedom of conscience for those who cannot receive this development could be exercised. We were being asked to back a code of practice which we had not seen and I was not convinced that would be a uniformity of practice in every diocese which would lead to problems, and potentially expensive legal problems, as has happened with other, more tightly drafted legislation.
"I could not vote against the proposals because of my support for women bishops but I had to abstain because the legislation was loosely phrased and flawed."
He added: "I am not without hope that we can resolve the problems quickly, perhaps within two years.
"I think the idea of a code of practice is dead and what is needed is legislation to protect freedom of conscience that is backed by law. There is broad agreement."
It is also understood that the bishop has met with all the women clergy in the Diocese of Exeter to assure them of his support.
The proposed legislation paving the way for women bishops needed to gain two-thirds majority support in each of the Church of England general synod's three houses – bishops, clergy and laity – but fell short by six votes in the House of Laity. Church rules state that the measure cannot be brought back before the synod "in the same form" during the current term, ending in 2015.
The votes were 44 for and three against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for and 45 against in the House of Clergy, and 132 for and 74 against in the House of Laity – and voting rules meant the votes against were enough to block it.
The House of Laity is the largest element of the general synod and is made up of lay members of the church elected by its 44 dioceses.
Two of its members from the Exeter diocese – Annaliese Barrell and Emma Forward – voted against the legislation while three were in favour – Anne Foreman, Charles Hodgson and Jack Shelley.
Mr Bradshaw has secured a backbench debate in Parliament on the issue on Thursday, December 13.
He said: "I was very disappointed by the Bishop of Exeter's abstention. The Exeter Diocese voted overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops and I had hoped Bishop Michael would reflect that.
"His concern appears to be that the safeguards for opponents of women bishops were not strong enough, but many others feel they went too far.
"In the end, his abstention didn't matter as almost all the other bishops voted yes. I hope our bishop will reflect on the damage this has done our church and change his vote when the issue returns in July.
"In the mean time I hope he will use his influence to persuade members of the House of Laity, where the vote was lost, to reconsider, including the two out of five from the Exeter Diocese who voted no."
The next Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop of Durham Justin Welby, has insisted the move will go ahead.
He said he agreed with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who insisted there would be women bishops during his lifetime.