CHURCH of England leaders last night rejected plans to introduce women bishops – despite backing for the historic proposal from the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Senior clergy in the region said the decision had left the Church of England looking ridiculous.

The proposal needed two-thirds in each of the governing General Synod’s three houses – bishops, clergy and laity.

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The votes were 44 for and two against 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, meaning the laity vote fell just short.

The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham, said last night he was utterly dismayed by the decision.

“It leaves us looking ridiculous – we will be laughed at,” he added.

“I think there will be people who will simply leave the church because they can’t see a future in a place where women aren’t given senior positions.”

Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont and Pittington, near Durham City, has been a prominent campaigner for women bishops.

She described the decision as insane.

She said: “I’m very disappointed.

We will continue the debate and waste another five or ten years – I would have thought the Church of England had better things to do quite frankly. It’s flabbergasting.”

Before the vote, the Bishop of Durham – the next archbishop of Canterbury – Justin Welby – made an impassioned plea to the General Synod to approve the legislation, insisting the Church of England must finish the job on female ordination, but promising to protect those who remain opposed.

He said: “It is time to finish the job and vote for this measure.

“But, also, the Church of England needs to show how to develop the mission of the church in a way that demonstrates we can manage diversity of view without division.

Diversity in amity; not diversity in enmity.”

Referring to the additional code of practice which would have been drawn up to allow alternative episcopal oversight for those who do not want women bishops, he added: “I am personally deeply committed – and believe that fellow bishops are also – to ensuring as far as I am able that what we promise today and later in the code of conduct is carried out faithfully in spirit as well as in letter.”

Yesterday’s vote was seen as Bishop Welby’s first major test.

Last week, 325 traditional clergy signed an open letter warning that allowing women bishops would severely prejudice their ministries and lead irrevocably to deep fractures within the Church.

However, more than 1,000 clergy and senior laity signed an open letter published by Rev Dr Threlfall- Holmes, in which she urged the Synod to back the change.

Controversy had centred on the provisions for parishes opposed to women bishops to request supervision by a stand-in male bishop. The vote was seen as the Church of England’s most important decision since allowing women priests 20 years ago.

The Right Reverend John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, said: “I am bitterly disappointed by the Synod result.

“I believed we had evolved a piece of legislation which was both positive in affirming women and their ministry as bishops, but which at the same time made proper provision for those who in all conscience could not accept this.”

He added: “I want again to affirm the excellent ministry of women in our own diocese and my own absolute belief that they ought to be considered for episcopal roles.”

Asked for his message to women who were thinking of leaving the ministry following the vote, Dr Williams said: “I would say first of all that I can well understand that feeling of rejection and unhappiness and deep perhaps disillusion with the institutional Church that many women may be feeling.

“I would also say it is still your Church and your voice matters and always will be heard and it is important therefore not to give up.

Deep sorrow after church announces its vote

”SUPPORTERS of the failed legislation to ordain women bishops said they were devastated last night with many saying they felt they had been betrayed by the lay members of the General Synod who voted against it.

At St Matthew’s Church, in Westminster, where many of those who had taken part in the vote gathered afterwards, there was a sense of disappointment.

Sally Barnes, of campaign group Watch, said: “My initial reaction is one of deep sorrow at the missed opportunity, especially as we know that the House of Bishops really wanted it to go through.”

She said those who were against the proposal had failed to appreciate the enormous generosity of a large number of women priests that supported them in making concession after concession in the draft legislation.

April Alexander, a lay General Synod member from Southwark Diocese, said: ‘‘It is the very essence of discrimination.”

The Reverend Canon Robert Cotton, from Guildford, said: “There is a lot of fury that we are letting people down.”

Sources close to Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who is also equalities minister, said: “While this is a matter for the church, it’s very disappointing as we seek to help women fulfil their potential throughout society.”