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`No talk of schism' at Anglican conference

February 16, 2007|Morris Mwavizo and Rebecca Trounson | Special to The Times

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA — As leaders of the world's 77 million Anglicans gathered here amid fears of a split in the church over divergent views on gay bishops and same-sex unions, a spokesman said the first day of discussions was characterized by "intense listening."

"There has been no talk of schism in the meeting at all," said Australian Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, who briefed reporters after the closed-door sessions Thursday.

Aspinall said the leaders spent much of the day discussing the church's troubled American wing, the Episcopal Church, whose presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, is under pressure to reconsider her support for ordaining gays and blessing same-sex couples. Jefferts Schori, the first woman chosen to head the U.S. church, is attending the meeting, as are leaders of the communion's 37 other national or regional churches.

Divisions among liberal and traditional church members in the United States and abroad have been growing for years, but a crisis point was reached in 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Jefferts Schori's selection last year to lead the U.S. church has further exacerbated the tensions with conservative Anglicans who are opposed to women serving as priests.

But in a report to the conference here Thursday, a committee of senior Anglicans, including the church's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said the U.S. church recently had taken some key steps to address concerns about the contentious issues it faces. The committee has been monitoring the U.S. response to a 2004 Anglican commission report, which called for a moratorium by the Americans on consecrating gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions.

The panel found that the Episcopal Church was taking the commission's recommendations "extremely seriously" and had complied with its requests for a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops. It also said the U.S. church had responded adequately to a request that it express regret over the strained relations with other Anglicans after Robinson's elevation.

But the panel said it was not clear whether the U.S. church had complied with a request that priests refrain from blessing same-sex unions, saying the widely varying practices within the church mean the question "needs to be addressed urgently" by Episcopal leaders.

A spokeswoman at the Manhattan headquarters of the Episcopal Church called the tone of the report encouraging.

"I think it's very positive that they saw past some of the rhetoric and looked at what the church is doing," the Rev. Jan Nunley said. "It's clear that there's still work that has to be done and conversations that need to continue, but it's very encouraging that they're dealing with us squarely."

But a statement by a group representing conservative Episcopalians criticized the report for minimizing or ignoring evidence that the church had not complied with the requests for change.

The leaders meeting at a seaside resort here are scheduled to discuss the report more fully in their sessions today.

rebecca.trounson@latimes.com

Special correspondent Mwavizo reported from Dar es Salaam and Times staff writer Trounson from Los Angeles.

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