Anglican leaders rebuke U.S. church

Selection of gay bishop is called a threat to unity of world denomination

October 17, 2003|By COX NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Anglican leaders expressed deep regret yesterday over U.S. Episcopalians' appointment of their first openly gay bishop, emphasizing that his coming consecration put "in jeopardy" the future of the global community.

In a unanimous statement that included a strongly worded rebuke to the U.S. Episcopal Church, the 37 leaders said the consecration would "tear the fabric of our communion at its deepest level."

It also "may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church," said the statement, issued at the end of a two-day emergency summit.

The statement is expected to put pressure on the Episcopal Church and on the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, whose consecration is set for Nov. 2. Robinson, a divorced father of two, has repeatedly indicated a determination to take the post.

At a news conference late yesterday, the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said he stood fully behind the process used by the Diocese of New Hampshire to choose Robinson as its next bishop.

But he also exuded an air of uncertainty, pointing out that all ordinations are in some sense provisional and that anything could happen between now and early November. His comments led some conservatives to predict that Griswold might ask the New Hampshire diocese to put off Robinson's consecration.

The leaders' statement also calls for creating an Anglican commission to study divisions over homosexuality and other issues and report within a year.

In drafting their statement, the leaders seemed to pay great heed to the concerns of conservatives in the developing world who say pro-gay moves endanger their evangelism.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who called the summit, said that if Robinson's consecration goes ahead, Anglican churches in places such as Pakistan would be put in an "appallingly" difficult position as they try to compete with Muslims for new members.

"We can't deny the realities of the reactions of the greater part of the Anglican world," said Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans.

Williams, who personally sympathizes with the liberals, was in a tough spot as he tried to reconcile two conflicting points of view and hold together a body with deep historical roots.

Anglicanism dates to 1534, when the Church of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church under King Henry VIII after the pope refused to dissolve his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

The U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church, was founded in 1789. Today's Anglican Communion represents churches in 160 countries.

Some conservatives, who argue that gay clergy are in violation of biblical teachings, had pushed Anglican leaders to expel clergy in the United States and Canada, the latter for recognizing same-sex unions.

But as Williams pointed out yesterday, this week's meeting had no real legal jurisdiction. Indeed, Williams' only real authority is the power of his persuasion.

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