The Church of England has "undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility" after its parliamentary body voted down legislation to allow women bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
In a strongly worded presidential address this morning, Dr Rowan Williams said the Church was going to be faced with "very uncomfortable and very unpleasant accusation and recrimination" after yesterday's vote and that it had a "lot of explaining to do" to Anglicans and wider society alike.
"Whatever the motivations of the voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle upon which people acted, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society," he said.
"Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the priorities of that wider society. We have some explaining to do.
"We have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society and I mean that as objectively as I can because it is perfectly true that the ultimate credibility of the Church does not depend on the goodwill of the public … but the fact is as it is."
He warned that yesterday's vote had done nothing to make polarisation in the Church less likely.
"The risk of creating further polarisation – of views and identity – is a very real one," he said.
"I hope we will try and hold back from simple recrimination in all of this."
The Archbishop said Synod itself was now "under scrutiny" as to why the legislation had fallen despite the majority of Synod members – and Diocesan Synods - voting in favour.
The legislation required a two third majority in each of the three houses and was passed by the bishops and clergy, but defeated by a margin of six votes in the laity.
The Archbishop defended the "high level of consent" required to bring in significant change to the Church, but said there would be questions asked about a "holding hostage of Synod" by minority groups.
Senior Church figures are to meet in the coming weeks to discuss the fallout from the vote and how to meet the "urgent demand for close, properly mediated conversation".
Bishops will be out and about in their dioceses to gauge reactions and some have already suggested that the scheduled February meeting of the General Synod be postponed until July because of the strength of feeling over the issue.
"Bishops feel that a full Synod in February is a little close for comfort given all the consequences we have to explore," Dr Williams said.
He appeared to be open to the suggestion of a delay, but added that the process towards allowing women bishops should not lose momentum.
"It would be tempting to conclude that it is too difficult and that the issue should be parked. I don't believe that is possible because of the sense of our credibility in wider society," he said.
"Every day in which we fail to resolve this is a day where our credibility in the public eye is likely to be diminished and we have to take that seriously."
He added: "There is a matter of mission here and we can't afford to hang about. We can't indefinitely go on living with the anomaly of women being priests who cannot be considered bishops."