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Top Anglican: no consensus

Many leaders remain skeptical of the Episcopal Church's promises on gay bishops and same-sex blessings.

December 15, 2007|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in a long-awaited message to the global Anglican Communion he heads, said Friday there was no consensus among Anglican leaders on whether the Episcopal Church had met demands that it stop consecrating openly gay bishops and authorizing same-sex blessings.

In an Advent letter released Friday, Williams said just more than half of the fellowship's top bishops and archbishops had responded positively to recent pledges from the Episcopal Church to roll back its relatively liberal positions on homosexuality and the Bible.

But for the rest of the Anglican leaders surveyed around the world, the promises made by Episcopal bishops were "inadequate," the archbishop wrote. In a September meeting in New Orleans, the bishops pledged to "exercise restraint" in consecrating openly gay bishops and said they would not authorize official blessings for same-sex couples.

Williams, who is struggling to keep his fractious global fellowship from splintering, said he planned to ask professional mediators to help guide discussions between the Episcopal Church's leadership and conservative dissidents in the United States and abroad.

"We have no consensus . . . ," Williams wrote in the letter largely devoted to the crisis affecting the communion. "All of us will be seriously wounded and diminished if our communion fractures any further."

The 2.4-million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, the world's third-largest Christian denomination with 77 million members. But for years, conflict between theological liberals and conservatives has been building both within the U.S. church and across the communion.

The rift widened in 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated a partnered gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire.

Since then, about 55 Episcopal parishes have taken steps to sever ties with the national church, sparking lawsuits over church property. Last week, the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin became the first diocese to break with the church and align with an overseas Anglican leader.

In his letter, Williams also made clear that he was not likely to reverse a decision to exclude Robinson from joining other bishops at a global Anglican gathering next year in England.

Williams also suggested that he had not changed his mind about refusing an invitation to next year's Lambeth Conference to such dissident Episcopalians as Bishop Martyn Minns, a traditionalist U.S. priest who has been consecrated bishop by the Anglican Church of Nigeria. "Both bishops fall into the same category . . . and [Williams] will not revisit the idea of issuing invitations to them," said the Rev. Canon James M. Rosenthal, a spokesman for the archbishop, referring to Robinson and Minns.

But for others, Williams emphasized the importance of attending the conference. Several conservative Anglican leaders, including Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, have threatened to boycott the session.

"I have said that the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross -- and so of the resurrection," Williams said.

In response to the letter, the leader of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, said she welcomed the idea of involving mediators. But in a statement she also said that she has "repeatedly offered to engage in dialogue with those who are most unhappy," but that "the offer has not yet been seriously engaged."


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