THE BISHOP of Oxford last night described the rejection of women bishops as a “kick in the teeth”.

The Rt Rev John Pritchard spoke out as clergy across Oxfordshire reacted with disappointment, sadness and frustration.

Following a tense debate, the motion was carried in the General Synod’s house of bishops and clergy but lost in the house of laity.

Bishop John said: “I’m deeply saddened that General Synod did not feel able to pass the legislation allowing women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England.

“I fear for the mission and credibility of the Church in our land at a time when neither society at large nor a clear majority in the wider Church of England will understand why the legislation has been rejected.

“I am also immensely sad for my many able and gifted women clergy colleagues whose ministry richly enhances the life of the Church and for whom this decision will be such a kick in the teeth. I very much hope there will not be resignations in the heat of despair. We need to believe there is still a way forward.

“Clearly we all need time to be exhausted and to stand back, but I’m sure that time cannot last long if we are to have any chance of regaining the confidence of the nation.”

His comments were echoed by the Rev Charlotte Bannister Parker, associate vicar at University Church of St Mary the Virgin in High Street, Oxford.

She said she had been glued to the television all day for the result.

She said: “I can’t believe it. I think it’s very sad. It is a sad day for the Church of England to have the validity of the office of women questioned in such a way. I also think we risk alienating secular society even further. It will be very disappointing for a lot of female priests.”

The Rev Canon Brian Mountford of St Mary’s the University Church in Oxford, said he was frustrated at the decision. He said: “I think it is a mistake but obviously it is a democratic decision.

“It was a very close call indeed. It is a great pity that we are left with years more of ill-feeling and debate about something which most people think is not a priority.

“Most people think we should be talking about issues of social justice and care and morality rather than tearing ourselves apart about internal matters.”

The Diocese of Oxford already has more female members of the clergy than any other, with roughly one in three women taking on roles as curates, priests, deacons and archdeacons.

Last year, of the 630 benefices in the diocese, only 14 said they would not accept women bishops – they are all already looked after by a “provincial episcopal visitor”, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet.

Speaking during yesterday’s General Synod debate, the Rev Canon Rosie Harper, from the Oxford Diocese, said the Church would be seen to have failed if it did not back the legislation.

She said: “A Church with lower moral standards than the rest of society loses its right to comment on other issues. It will inevitably be seen as an act of a dying Church.”

The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Justin Welby, had earlier urged the synod “to finish the job” and vote for the legislation.

But Canon Simon Killwick, a vicar in Moss Side, Manchester, and chairman of the Catholic Group in the General Synod, urged members to vote against the legislation.

“I do not believe that this draft legislation will be good for the Church of England,” he said.