THE Bishop of Swindon said he felt ‘devastated’ when he heard that the vote to ordain women as bishops in the Church of England had been defeated.

The draft legislation failed to clear its final hurdle last night and although it was carried in the houses of bishops and clergy in the General Synod, it failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority amongst lay members.

If six people had changed their vote from no to yes in the House of Lait, the legislation would have received the necessary two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod.

The vote was billed as the biggest in the 20 years since the General Synod backed the introduction of women priests in 1992 and comes after 42 out of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England approved the legislation.

If the measure had received final approval, it would have gone to the Houses of Parliament before royal assent with the first female bishops on course to be appointed as early as 2014.

“Although I had been aware that the vote in the House of Laity was being projected as being very tight, I think I could not allow myself to imagine this happening,” said Bishop Lee.

“The plain fact is that this will not be understood by the majority of people in the country or our churches. “As a female colleague said to me, once again this sends out a signal that women are a problem for the Church. It confirms the perception that we live in a parallel universe, it demotivates church members and their leaders, and it locks us into further protracted wrangling and debates in which society at large has increasingly less interest.

“I feel deeply for our women clergy in the Diocese and further afield and recognise the pain this will bring.

“I believe we had reached a position where people with differing perspectives and needs could be respected and held together.

“Given what has already been done to achieve this I cannot see something much better being forthcoming in the future.

“We say the Church of England is ‘Episcopally led and synodically governed’. This result raises clear questions about that balance and the health of our structures.

“In following Jesus Christ the Church of England can expect to receive many wounds, but they feel so much more painful when they are self-inflicted.”

John Sentamu, the second most senior bishop in the Church, admitted it the result was ‘very disappointing’ but insisted the Church was not ‘dead’ and maintained that the principle of female bishops had been accepted.

Dr Sentamu said he was confident there would be women bishops in his lifetime, suggesting that revised legislation would receive the necessary support to be passed.