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Cameron: Church of England needs to 'get with the programme'

By Alex Stevenson

The prime minister launched a blistering attack on the Church of England today, after it voted against allowing women bishops.

But despite telling the established church it had to "get with the programme" he refused to personally intervene in the debate.

"The Church has its own processes and elections, [some of which are] hard for some of us to understand. We have to respect individual institutions," he told former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw during PMQs.

"They need to get on with it and get with the programme. You do have to respect the institutions and how they work, while giving them a sharp prod."

Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said in a speech this morning that he felt a "deep personal sadness" at the vote, which came at the end of a day of heated debate in the Synod yesterday.

The House of Bishops and House of Clergy voted in favour of the reform but the House of Laity only voted 132 in favour to 74 against – falling just short of the two-thirds majority required for the change to go through.

In prime minister's questions this lunchtime, Tory backbencher Sir Tony Baldry said the Synod vote was "a sad day for our Church and for our national character".

Cameron said he was "very sad" by the result of the vote and added he was sad for Williams, too.

"I think it's important for the Church of England to be a modern church in society as it is today, and this was a key step they need to take," he said.

Earlier, Williams said the vote was "not intelligible" to wider society, regardless of the "theological motivations of the decision".

He warned: "[It has] lost us credibility in society. We have, to put it bluntly, a lot of explaining to do.

"We are going to be faced with a great deal of accusation and recrimination... there is no easy way of getting through that."

Williams is stepping down from the Church's top job at the end of the year, when he will be replaced by the current Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby.

The next head of the Church tweeted: "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God."

The vote holds grave political implications for the Church, with divisions over the role of women now set to continue indefinitely into the future.

"People are deeply upset and some are very weepy because they're angry," Sally Barnes, spokesperson for the Watch campaign group, told the Guardian newspaper.

"The female clergy in particular feel it's a slap in the face for them."

Archbishop of York John Sentamu told the Today programme he expected to see female bishops within his lifetime, however.

"This morning, people have been saying, 'The church has committed suicide, the church is dead'," he said.

"Well, dead people don't converse. We've been conversing - we've not committed suicide at all."