Anglican summit over, but crisis goes on

By AL WEBB, United Press International  |  Oct. 16, 2003 at 5:35 PM
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LONDON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The 77-million-member Anglican Communion edged closer to schism Thursday when the church's global leaders conceded during a crisis meeting in London that they could not halt U.S. Anglicans from going ahead with their consecration of an openly gay bishop.

The ritual installation of Canon Gene Robinson, a divorced father of two who has lived with his male partner for a decade, is scheduled for Nov. 2 -- and the head of the U.S. Episcopal Church, which approved Robinson's appointment, made it clear that he had no intention of intervening.

The Most Rev. Frank Tracy Griswold, the U.S. church's presiding bishop, is one of the 37 Anglican leaders who agreed unanimously in a statement that they "deeply regret" the Robinson case -- but he immediately said that "while anything can happen, including the Second Coming, I expect to be in New Hampshire on the 2nd of November."

Bishop Griswold told a news conference following the two-day crisis meeting at London's 12th century Lambeth Palace that he himself was among "those of us who are not part of that deep regret. I stand fully behind the diocese of New Hampshire as to who it wants as its next bishop."

What the primates were in "deep regret" about were "the actions of the Diocese of Westminster and the Episcopal Church U.S.A" in ignoring the Anglican Church's 1998 Lambeth resolution which rejected the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Scripture."

The Diocese of Westminster is in Canada and was the venue for a same-sex blessing that also has drawn considerable fire from Anglican conservatives and evangelicals.

The emergency conference of Anglican primates was summoned by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in an attempt to resolve the dilemma over homosexuality in the church which has seen the Anglican church slide inexorably toward tearing itself apart.

The joint statement issued by the 37 primates, including Bishop Griswold, indicated the archbishop's efforts had fallen far short of his goals. Despite what Rowan Williams described as a "remarkable couple of days, two demanding days with enormous challenges," what the primates came up with amounted to a list of dire warnings.

The case of Gene Robinson, they appeared to concede, contains the seeds of possible splits: "In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognized by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces (churches) are likely to consider themselves to be out of communion with the Episcopal Church U.S.A."

U.S. Anglican conservatives have left no doubt that they want to see Griswold's Episcopal Church kicked out of the Anglican community and replaced by their own American Anglican Council.

The primates' actions in London are not destined to change their minds -- and, in fact, they warned against moving too far too fast. "We urge our provinces not to act precipitately on these wider questions, but take time to share in this process of reflection and to consider their own constitutional requirements as individual provinces face up to potential realignments."

An ocean or so away, other conservative Anglicans in South America and Africa -- particularly in the church's strongly anti-gay ranks in Nigeria, whose primate Peter Akinola had termed Robinson's election and the same-sex blessing a "Satanic attack on the church" -- have threatened to leave the communion of their own accord unless Rowan Williams and the other primates clamp down on the American liberals.

It was for the planned consecration of Gene Robinson that the 37 primates reserved their sharpest criticism, and warnings. "If his consecration proceeds," they said in their joint statement, "we recognize that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion."

In addition, they said, "we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy ... This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and future issues ..."

The primates insisted on making it clear that the Diocese of Westminster's same-sex blessing and the imminent Robinson consecration "do not express the mind of our communion as a whole, and these decisions jeopardize our sacramental fellowship with each other."

"In most of our provinces," they said, "the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop."

The primates did take at least one firm step. They instructed the Archbishop of Canterbury to set up a committee whose task will include "urgent and deep theological and legal reflection on the way in which the dangers we have identified will have to be addressed."

The archbishop's own remarks at the end of the Lambeth Palace summit indicated that keeping the Communion together is not going to be an easy task. These two days alone, he said, "contained pain and anger and misunderstanding all around."

"We can be in no doubt about the work that still remains to be done," Rowan Williams said. Meanwhile, he said farewell to his fellow primates with a parting observation of their two days of effort: "Any talk of winners and losers is irrelevant."

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