Women priests in the UK have been rejected from becoming bishops at the Church of England following a vote overnight in the General Synod – the church's legislative body – which failed to receive the two-thirds majority it needed to pass the measure.
In light of the vote-down, those campaigning in favour of women bishops have warned that the church is in danger of fading away into irrelevance.
Speaking after the vote, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said he was disappointed with the outcome, but reiterated that the issue would not go away.
"Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and of course it is a personal sadness – a deep personal sadness – that that is not the case," he told reporters.
"I think one of the things that is most sobering, most saddening, about today is that it does commit us to a long process of focusing on this question when so many people would like to be talking about something else and doing something else."
Conservatives who voted against allowing women to become bishops said the proposal disregarded scripture. "My conscience says no. I have tried over 20 years to attend worship where the eucharist is celebrated by a woman. My feet will not get me to the altar. I think this is my conscience," Canon Ann Turner said during the debate.
Reporter Lizzy Davies, at the UK's The Guardian, called it the "gravest crisis in decades" for the Church of England.
Canon Rosie Harper said during the debate: "A church with lower moral standards than the rest of society risks its right to comment on other issues. Secondly, it will inevitably be seen as the act of a dying church more wedded to the past than committed to hope for the future."
Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
It will now take at least another five years before the campaign can reach the same stage for debate in the General Synod.
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