Williams: No Anglican consensus on Episcopal Church
PARIS (Reuters) - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said on Friday the Anglican Communion he heads cannot agree if the United States Episcopal Church has stepped back from its liberal stands on gay bishops and scriptural authority.
Just over half the Communion leaders surveyed felt the Episcopal Church had reassured them it would not appoint another gay bishop or allow blessings for same-sex couples, but the rest felt it fell short, he said in his Advent Letter to Anglicans.
Williams said he would ask professional mediators to help guide talks between the Episcopal leadership and its traditionalist critics among U.S. and foreign Anglicans.
Their four-year feud threatens to split the 77-million member Communion, which gave the U.S. church a deadline of September 30 to change its position. But the nuanced answer it gave has clearly not won wide approval.
"We have no consensus," Williams wrote, noting the crisis went beyond issues of sexuality to encompass questions about how to interpret the Bible. "All of us will be seriously wounded and diminished if our Communion fractures any further."
Williams, who is spiritual head of the Communion but has no direct power over its 38 member churches, also said he had not changed his mind about keeping two U.S. bishops -- one gay, one traditionalist -- from an Anglican summit due next summer.
"I have not seen any reason to revisit this," he said.
The consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003 pushed tensions between Anglican liberals and traditionalists -- many in developing countries -- to the breaking point. Williams has not invited him to the Lambeth Conference in England.
WARNINGS FROM WILLIAMS
Several U.S. parishes and one diocese have switched loyalty to Third World archbishops. In May, Church of Nigeria primate Archbishop Peter Akinola consecrated an American bishop, Martyn Minns, the traditionalist whom Williams has also excluded.
Williams warned Third World primates not to snub the Lambeth Conference, the Communion's highest decision-making body held every 10 years. Akinola threatens to lead a boycott if the Episcopalians do not reverse their pro-gay line.
He also criticized foreign churches offering to oversee U.S. traditionalists opting out of the Episcopal Church. To date, one diocese and 32 parishes have left and another three dioceses and 23 parishes have voted to do so.
That is a tiny minority of the 7,600 parishes in the 2.4-million member U.S. church, but the precedent is damaging. A Canadian bishop has switched to the main Anglican branch in South America and some parishes there are considering it too.
Williams said this hollowing out of traditional Anglican structures, where local bishops oversee all parishes in their diocese, was being done without any agreed guidelines.
"It creates a seriously anomalous position," he wrote. "It creates rivalry and confusion. It opens the door to complex and unedifying legal wrangles in civil courts."
Williams said he also plans to form a small working group of primates, as the heads of the member churches are known, to address problems facing the Communion.
-- For Reuters latest religion blogs click on: blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/
(Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)
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