26/11/2012 06:14 GMT

Women Bishops: Church Warned Over 'Major Crisis' In Leaked Memo From William Fittall, Secretary General

The Church of England is reeling with "shock" and facing a "major constitutional crisis" following the failure of new legislation to introduce women bishops, according to a leaked memo internal document written by one of its most senior staff.

The memo describes the devastation after the decision, and particularly the effect on morale the defeat of the motion has had on women clergy.

Steps must be taken by July next year to consecrate women bishops and vote them through by 2015, or it risks the matter being taken out of its hands by Parliament, a memo by William Fittall, secretary general to the General Synod, said.

women bishops

Dr Paula Gooder, center back, reacts as the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, right, speaks after the draft legislation failed

The document, leaked to The Times, is addressed to members of the Archbishops' Council, a group made up of the archbishops of Canterbury and York and other leading clergy and lay people in the Church of England.

The Times reported that Fittall, the Church of England's most senior "civil servant" whose advice is seldom ignored, wrote the memo within 72 hours of the vote last Tuesday which saw the legislation carried in the General Synod houses of bishops and clergy but fail by six votes to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority in the house of laity.

The decision has badly damaged the Church of England, Fittall wrote, describing a "sense of shock".

"Within the Church the effect on morale - particularly but not exclusively on that of female clergy - is severe," he said.

Fittall reportedly outlines a plan that would lead to simpler legislation, such as a clause to consecrate women bishops with no provision for opponents, being put to the General Synod when it meets at the University of York in July.

After going through revision committees and the dioceses, it could be ready to vote through to Parliament by 2015 or earlier, he said. "We have to do so because time is not on our side. Parliament is impatient," he said.

He warned that unless the Church of England could prove very quickly that it was capable of dealing with the problem, it would be into a "major constitutional crisis" in Church-state relations.

The Archbishops' Council will debate the issue this week before a meeting of the Church of England house of bishops takes place next month.

The defeat of the legislation to introduce women bishops came in spite of more than seven in 10 synod members voting in favour of approval.

The legislation has also been backed by 42 out of the 44 Church of England dioceses.

Culture Secretary and minister for equalities Maria Miller told the Guardian newspaper at the weekend that it was "extraordinary" and "very disappointing" that the vote had failed, and urged the Church of England to examine its "procedures and processes" and why its decision had not reflected the views of its members.

Sir Tony Baldry, the MP who represents the Church of England in the House of Commons, said last week that a fresh attempt to allow women to become bishops should take place "as soon as possible".

He warned that it was not an issue which could be "parked for the next couple of years" until after the next round of General Synod elections in 2015.

A spokesman for the Church of England declined to comment on the Times report.