Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Anglican leaders convene to save church

AFP , LONDON

The world's Anglican leaders hold an emergency summit in London this week to discuss homosexuality, a controversial issue which is threatening to split the church asunder.

All 38 primates, as the Anglican chiefs are known, are to attend a meeting in London tomorrow and Thursday called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams -- spiritual head of the church's 70 million faithful.

The gathering was triggered by the confirmation in August of openly gay cleric Reverend Gene Robinson as bishop of the US state of New Hampshire. That move, along with a Canadian diocese's recognition of same-sex marriages, is unacceptable to many Anglican conservatives, especially in developing countries who insist it goes against the teachings of the Bible.

African and Asian religious leaders plan to use the London meeting to push for a ban on homosexual priests in the church worldwide, a BBC survey found, while other reports said conservatives will press for the Episcopal Church, the US branch of the Anglican Church, to be expelled.

When consecrated next month Robinson, a divorced father-of-two who has lived with his male lover for 13 years, is to become Anglicanism's first openly active homosexual bishop.

Traditionalist leaders including Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola, head of the world's largest Anglican community, have suggested Robinson's appointment would split the church.

A group of 24 conservative US bishops have already threatened to leave the church if he was confirmed as bishop.

In Britain, where a recent poll found just over half of Anglicans support the ordination of practising homosexuals, openly gay Jeffrey John withdrew his candidacy as bishop of Reading, west of London, in July to avert a schism between conservative and liberal factions.

The primates -- the heads of 38 autonomous provinces, including the US, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Uganda, which make up the Anglican Communion -- will discuss their differences in London behind closed doors.

Williams, who was enthroned in February this year, is known for his liberal views and his support -- in principle -- for the appointment of gay clergy. But he will attempt to preserve unity and prevent the acrimonious collapse of the church by appealing to the middle ground, the Daily Telegraph predicted Monday.

To placate conservatives threatening a mass walkout, he will uphold the church's traditional ban on gay marriages and the ordination of active homosexuals, the Telegraph reported, citing unnamed sources.

But Williams would resist pressure to expel the American Episcopal Church over its decision to appoint Robinson, the Telegraph said. He would argue that final decisions about how to deal with liberals who have stepped out of line should be deferred, despite demands for immediate action.

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