|February 25, 2005
from the London Times newspaper
Anglicans ready to split over gay bishop
Liberal churches told to consider their place
By Ruth Gledhill
THE Anglican Church stood on the brink of schism last night after the US and Canadian Churches were told to “voluntarily withdraw” from the Communion’s central governing body in a bitter row over homosexuality.
The two Churches were told by leaders of the worldwide Church to “consider their place in the Anglican Communion” before the next Lambeth Conference in 2008.
The concluding statement of the week-long Primates’ meeting in Armagh represents a conservative success in forcing the liberals in North America to consider whether their stance over gays is compatible with membership of the Anglican Communion.
The United States Church is effectively facing an agreed withdrawal from the Communion over its consecration of the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson to the New Hampshire Diocese if it does not fall in with the demands of the Windsor Report, which called for statements of regret over gay consecrations and same-sex blessings and a moratorium on similar actions. The Canadian Church is facing similar conditions over its authorisation of same-sex blessings in 2003.
The communiqué also commits the Communion to “pastoral support and care of homosexual people” and acknowledges that Canada and the US acted within their constitutions.
But it is nevertheless expected to precipitate further crises in the liberal churches of the West, including the Church of England. Thousands of lesbian and gay Christians and their supporters are threatening to leave if the US and Canada Churches are sidelined.
The Primates’ response to the crisis is set out in a statement that was due to be published today but was hurriedly released last night after leaks from the closed meeting indicating that the liberals were to be penalised.
Conservatives, mainly from the “Global South” churches in Africa and Asia, had wanted the suspension and then expulsion of the Episcopal Church of the US and the Anglican Church of Canada if they failed to repent.
But canon lawyers, who have been heavily involved in the Primates’ meeting at the Dromantine Roman Catholic retreat centre, advised that there was no legal process by which any of the 38 provinces can be suspended from the 77-million strong Communion. They were instead asked to voluntarily withdraw for at least three years.
The US Church, with more than two million members, is one of the smallest but is also the wealthiest, financing communications systems in many of the provinces that object most to its liberalism. At least one African province has refused to accept any more cash.
Thirty-five of the Anglican Communion’s 38 Primates have been closeted in guarded quarters at the retreat centre. The bulk of the work towards the end of the meeting was done by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canturbury, Dr Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria, and Bishop Frank Griswold, the US Primate, in consultation with John Rees, the Church of England canon lawyer. They were said to be exhausted when they emerged with the completed draft, early yesterday evening.
Although the communiqué represents a victory for the conservatives, a senior source said it was not correct to speak in terms of suspension or of measures being taken against the US Church. The correct language, he said, was “withdrawal”.
He continued: “The churches of the US and Canada have got to follow their own constitutional processes. The whole thing has to be done properly. They have to go and consider their position. They are the ones who have to tell us what they want.”
The two Churches, which sparked the crisis with the consecration of a practising gay bishop and the authorisation of same-sex blessings, have until the 2008 Lambeth Conference to meet the demands of the Windsor Report, which called on them to regret their actions, impose a moratorium on future similar actions and come up with theological justifications for what they have done.