The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the Church of England has a "lot of explaining" to do after the General Synod narrowly voted against legislation introducing the first women bishops.
The draft legislation was carried in the Houses of bishops and clergy but failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority among lay members.
Dr Rowan Williams said the Church of England had "undoubtedly" lost a "measure of credibility" in the wider society following the defeat.
"We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do," he told the General Synod.
"Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday (Tuesday), whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society.
"Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and 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."
Dr Williams' comments came as an emergency meeting of the Church of England bishops was held following the defeat - by just six votes.
The vote was billed as the biggest in the 20 years since the General Synod backed the introduction of women priests in 1992, and came after 42 out of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England backed the legislation.
If the measure had received final approval, it would have gone to the Houses of Parliament before Royal Assent with the first women bishops on course to be appointed as early as 2014.
The result was a blow to Dr Williams and his successor, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, who staked their authority on a 'yes' vote.
Dr Williams, who leaves his post at the end of this year after a decade in office, expressed his "deep personal sadness" at the result.
He said he wished Bishop Welby "every blessing" in resolving the issue.
Around a third of all Church of England clergy are women - they also make up just under a half of all those training for ordination.
Women and the Church (Watch), the campaigning group, said the result was a "devastating blow".
The Rev Rachel Weir, Watch chairman, said: "This is a tragic day for the Church of England after so many years of debate and after all our attempts at compromise.
"Despite this disappointing setback, Watch will continue to campaign for the full acceptance of women's gifts of leadership in the Church's life."
But the Rev Prebendary Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative evangelical grouping Reform, which recommended a no vote, said: "My overall conclusion is that it is very good news for the Church of England.
"We have avoided what could have been a disastrous mistake for our unity and witness."
The defeat came in spite of a series of appeals from senior bishops for the General Synod to support the legislation.