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Anglican leaders ask U.S. to leave council

Anglican leaders ask U.S. to leave council

Anglican leaders struggling to resolve explosive differences over homosexuality have asked the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw from a key council of their global communion for three years--a move some fear could be the first step toward a permanent split. Archbishop of Perth Peter Carnley, the primate of Australia's Anglican church, on Friday rejected the idea that the 77 million-member communion was headed toward a collapse, and he dismissed suggestions of "a kind of loose-knit federation." "That has no interest for the primates," he said, referring to the leaders of Anglican national churches who were meeting this week to discuss the crisis. "The purpose of this is to create some space." The Episcopal Church, which is the U.S. province of Anglicanism, precipitated the most serious rift in the communion's history when it consecrated V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in November 2003. Robinson lives with his longtime male partner. Conservatives have also criticized North American dioceses for allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. Late Thursday bishops meeting near Belfast called on the U.S. and Canadian churches to "voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference," an international Anglican gathering to be held in 2008, according to a statement. The North Americans were asked not to attend the next meeting of the consultative council, which is a body of bishops, priests, and laypeople from national Anglican churches who meet and consult in between the once-a-decade Lambeth Conferences for the primates. However, Anglican leaders also recommended a hearing be organized at the council's gathering in June to allow the North American churches to send representatives who could explain their views on homosexuality. "In the meantime, we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage," the statement said. Conservatives who lead the Anglican Communion Network, which represents dissenting Episcopal dioceses and churches in the United States, argued that the primates' request meant that the two North American churches "have been effectively suspended" from the communion. But James Naughton, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., and a supporter of Robinson's, disagreed, calling the report an "elegant compromise." He said Episcopalians could easily accept temporary withdrawal from the council if it would create more time for Anglicans to find ways to remain unified. The communique issued Thursday by the primates reaffirmed a resolution adopted by all Anglican bishops in 1998 declaring that homosexuality is "incompatible with Scripture" and opposing ordination of gays and blessing of same-sex unions. Presiding bishop Frank T. Griswold, head of the Episcopal Church, stressed in a brief statement after Thursday's meeting that discussions are continuing. "These days have not been easy for any of us, and the communique reflects a great deal of prayer and the strong desire to find a way forward as a communion in the midst of deep differences, which have been brought into sharp relief around the subject of homosexuality," he said. The communique "was written with a view to making room for a wide variety of perspectives," he added. The communique said many of the 35 primates who met this week were "deeply alarmed that the standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality" expressed in that 1998 resolution had "been seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America." Before the Northern Ireland meeting, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of Anglican Communion, said the dispute had "weakened, if not destroyed, the sense that we are actually talking the same language within the Anglican Communion." He appeared at the news conference with Carnley, but it was not clear if he would comment. A commission headed by Irish archbishop Robin Eames sharply criticized the American church for electing Robinson without fully consulting the rest of the communion, which is rooted in the Church of England. The communique showed little enthusiasm for recommendations by the commission Eames led for giving the archbishop of Canterbury more authority over Anglican provinces, which are governed independently. "We are cautious of any development which would seem to imply the creation of an international jurisdiction which could override our proper provincial autonomy," the communique said. And whereas Eames's report criticized African and other bishops who have offered to serve as bishops for disaffected Episcopal congregations, the communique called on Williams to take steps "to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their provinces [national churches]." (AP)

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