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The New York Times
Anglican Plan Threatens Split on Gay Issues
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN and NEELA BANERJEE
Published: June 28, 2006
In a defining moment in the Anglican Communion's civil war over homosexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a plan yesterday that could force the Episcopal Church in the United States either to renounce gay bishops and same-sex unions or to give up full membership in the Communion.
Chris Radburn/Press Association, via Associated Press
A proposal by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, was hailed by conservatives.
The archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, said the "best way forward" was to devise a shared theological "covenant" and ask each province, as the geographical divisions of the church are called, to agree to abide by it.
Provinces that agree would retain full status as "constituent churches," and those that do not would become "churches in association" without decision-making status in the Communion, the world's third largest body of churches.
Conservatives hailed the archbishop's move as an affirmation that the American church stepped outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy when it ordained a gay bishop three years ago.
The archbishop wrote, "No member church can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship."
Leaders of the Episcopal Church — the Communion's American province, long dominated by theological liberals — sought to play down the statement's import, saying it was just one more exchange in a long dialogue they expected to continue within the Communion.
The archbishop said his proposal could allow local churches in the United States to separate from the Episcopal Church and join the American wing that stays in the Communion. But that process could take years, and some American parishes are already planning to break from the Episcopal Church. Entire dioceses may announce their intention to depart, as soon as today.
The 38 provinces that make up the global Communion have been at odds since 2003, when the Episcopal Church ordained Bishop V. Gene Robinson, a gay man who lives with his partner, as bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire.
The archbishop's statement is the most solid official step yet in a long march toward schism. Twenty-two of the 38 provinces had already declared their ties with the American church to be "broken" or "impaired," but until now the Communion had hung together, waiting for guidance from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is considered "the first among equals" in the Communion but does not dictate policy as the pope does in the Roman Catholic Church.
For the proposal to be enacted would take at least half a dozen major church meetings spread out over at least the next four years, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said in a telephone interview.
What should be included in a covenant could become the next focus of debate. The idea of a covenant was first proposed in the "Windsor Report," issued in 2004 by a committee commissioned by the archbishop. Canon Kearon said, "Many churches welcome the idea of a covenant, but they didn't particularly welcome the text that was proposed." He said he did not regard the archbishop's proposal as a step toward schism but as a means to clarify "identity and common decision-making procedures" in the Communion.
Church liberals said that any "covenant" would be crafted with the participation of the American church and other provinces that favored full inclusion of gay people.
"I think the archbishop takes a long view and underscores the fact that we are involved in a process rather than a quick fix," Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold of the Episcopal Church said in a telephone interview.
Several church officials in communication with the archbishop's office said he wrote his six-page communiqué, which he called a "reflection," after the close of the Episcopal Church's convention last Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio.
At the convention, the church fell short of the demands in the Windsor Report for an explicit apology and a full "moratorium" on ordaining gay bishops. Instead, the church approved a conciliatory statement encouraging American dioceses to refrain from ordaining gay bishops.
But the convention also offended the conservatives by electing a new presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, who has been an outspoken advocate of full inclusion for gay people and who allows gay union ceremonies in churches in her diocese.
Bishop Jefferts Schori, who takes office after Bishop Griswold retires in November, will represent the American church in meetings with the world's primates, some of whom do not approve of women as priests or bishops.
She said in an interview yesterday that she was heartened by Archbishop Williams's comments in the letter that he would not be able to mend rifts over sexuality single-handedly.
"There were expectations out there that he would intervene or direct various people and provinces to do certain things, and he made it quite clear that it's not his role or responsibility to do that," Bishop Jefferts Schori said.
The Anglican Communion has about 77 million members in more than 160 nations. Members in conservative provinces far outnumber those in the liberal provinces. The Episcopal Church has about 2.3 million members but contributes a disproportionate amount to Anglican Communion administration, charities and mission work. The Anglican Communion Network, a group leading the conservative response, said it had 200,000 members last year.
The archbishop's proposal was greeted with satisfaction by conservative leaders in the United States, who had formed a powerful alliance with prelates in many of the provinces in Africa and in Asia, and in some parts of Latin America. The conservatives have insisted all along that it is the American church that destabilized the Anglican ship and should be pushed overboard if it will not relent.
The Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, president of the conservative American Anglican Council, said: "We really believe that the Episcopal Church wants to follow a course that takes it out of both Anglicanism and Christianity, as Christianity is historically known. So a two-tier approach looks good in theory."
Canon Anderson said the plan could be difficult in actuality, because many parishes and dioceses were ready to sever ties with the Episcopal Church now, years before the archbishop's plan for reorganization could take effect. He said that churches and dioceses had already asked to be put under the authority of bishops in Africa and Latin America and that many more would do so in coming months.
"The floodgates are starting to open," he said.
The division has already led to legal battles over church property. Under Episcopal Church bylaws, parish assets belong to the dioceses, but churches in some states have challenged that in court.
Archbishop Williams said in his statement, "The reason Anglicanism is worth bothering with is because it has tried to find a way of being a church that is neither tightly centralized nor a loose federation of essentially independent bodies."
But that decentralization will continue to be a cause of conflict unless it is addressed, he said, adding, "What our Communion lacks is a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope with the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety."
Head of Anglicans Seeks End to Divisions on Gay Clergy
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 28, 2006; Page A11
The archbishop of Canterbury called yesterday for Anglicans around the world to forge an agreement on issues that divide them, including the roles of gay clergy and women in the church, and suggested that the U.S. Episcopal Church could be relegated to second-tier status if it is unwilling to sign the proposed covenant.
Leading conservative Episcopalians cheered the "Reflection" by Rowan Williams, head of the 75 million-member Anglican Communion, the worldwide family of churches descended from the Church of England. They said it could lead within a few years to the moment they have long anticipated, when the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church USA is forced either to renounce its 2003 decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop or face expulsion from the communion.
Liberals in the U.S. church noted that Williams did not specify what the covenant would say about homosexuality. They said drafting the document would involve lengthy negotiations and might result in a nuanced agreement the U.S. church could sign. And if the Episcopal Church could not join the covenant, some said, it might be content with some kind of "associate" status.
"I don't see this as leading to the Episcopal Church being expelled. I see it as meaning we might need to sit on the sidelines for a time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, because it would . . . allow us to set the divisive issues to the side and focus on our work, which is the Gospel," said the Rev. Tobias S. Haller, vicar of St. James Church in the Bronx and author of a liberal Episcopal blog called "In a Godward Direction."
Williams wrote his Reflection in response to last week's General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio, where delegates elected Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first woman to head any of the communion's 38 member churches. Thirteen of the 38 do not ordain women as priests or bishops.
The convention also called on U.S. dioceses not to consecrate any more bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." That language fell short of a clear moratorium on installing more gay bishops, which conservative Anglicans sought.
Despite his limited powers, Williams has sought to bridge the divisions caused by the consecration three years ago of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
"It seems to me the best way forward," he wrote yesterday, is to draft a covenant on key theological and governing principles. Member churches that do not sign the agreement could end up with associate status, "still bound by historic and perhaps personal links" but "not sharing the same constitutional structures," he wrote.
Conservatives particularly rejoiced over Williams's warning that no member church "can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship."
Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, leader of a group of conservative U.S. dioceses, said that "for the first time, the archbishop himself is acknowledging that some parts of the communion will not be able to continue in full membership if they insist on maintaining teaching and action outside of the received faith and order."
Archbishop of Canterbury - 'Challenge and hope' for the Anglican Communion
27th June 2006