Ordination of women to the priesthood was rejected by the Church of England yesterday despite strong support for the move from bishops and laity in the church's General Synod.
The proposal to ordain women has been argued, both pro and con, as fiercely in Britain as it was in the United States two years ago, when the Episcopal Church decided to admit women to the priesthood.
In the British church's General Synod, which met in London, the House of Bishops voted 32 to 17 in favor; the laity were 120 to 106 in favor, but the clergy voted 149 to 94 against the proposal. Agreement of all three divisions of the Synod is required for the change.
The vote affects only the British church since national churches within world-wide Anglicanism have autonomy over their affairs.
In the debate which preceded the vote, Archbishop Donald Coggan of Canterbury, primate of all England, wife signed a petition which called argued in favor of the change. His the admission of women to the priesthood "a matter of urgency."
When the results of the vote were announced, Una Kroll, a physician, a feminist and internationally known activist in church affairs, shouted from the gallery: "We asked you for bread and you gave us a stone!"
The controversy in the Church of England over women priests paralleled the same issue in the Episcopal Church in this country, with added emotional overtones arising out of the fact that the British church is the mother church of Anglicanism.
In the Synod debate, opposition arguement centered around two points: that ordination of women was contrary to scripture and church tradition, and that such a step would be a set-back in unity talks with the Roman Catholic Church.
The archbishop of Canterbury took the floor to counter the latter argument.
"In the Roman Catholic Church there are a great many people who believe that the ordination of women is right and I believe they would welcome a lead," said the archbishop, who had just returned from the Vatican where he had extended talks following the installation of Pope John Paul II.
Bishop Graham Leonard of Truro, who led the debate against ordaining women, argued that the Bible speaks of God as "Father", that Jesus Christ was incarnate as a man and that he chose men to be his apostles.
Arguing for the change, school teacher Jean Mahland taunted apponents, charging that they feared female sexuality. "Priestess - that dreaded word is spoken and people draw back in horror with visions of sexual orgies and fertility cults," she said. Her remarks drew jeers.
There are reportedly about 100 women in the Church of England who are in some stage of preparation for the priesthood. While their immediate hopes were sharply diminished by yesterday's vote, the issue is expected to remain before the church.
Branches of the Anglican Church in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong, as well as the United States, ordain women to the priesthood.
In the United States, nearly 150 women have been ordained since the barrier was lowered in 1976, a Episcopal Church spokeswoman said.
But opposition to women priests - as well as to liturgical changes and church involvement in social issues - has led some church members in this country to leave the Episcopal Church and set up a schismatic denomination, the Anglican Catholic Church.
More than 200 of the Anglican church's 19,000 clergy had threatened to take similar steps had the vote gone the other way in yesterday's Synod meeting.
Forces favoring ordination of women warned that the issue there is far from settled. "Do not be misguided into thinking that a negative vote today will preserve peace," Mahland warned.