Anglican church split over gays widens in Canada

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - An Anglican Church of Canada official expressed dismay on Thursday after a major congregation voted to split from the national church over the issue of homosexuality.

St John’s Shaughnessy, a Vancouver parish, said it would leave the Canadian church and follow the leadership of conservative Anglican churches in South America that oppose any blessing of same-sex marriages.

The rift over same-sex unions and gay clergy has threatened to split the 400-year-old Anglican church internationally, pitting a liberal minority, including some church leaders in Canada and the United States, against a conservative majority, mostly from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“We regret the decision of any person to leave our church,” Dean Elliot, commissary of the Diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia, said in a statement that warned Wednesday’s vote also could result in a court fight over church property.

The vote came less than a month after Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, told the Canadian church there was little he could do to stop cross-border ecclesiastical moves even if he is opposed to them.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, but religious organizations are not required to perform the ceremonies.

There are about 800,000 registered Anglicans in Canada.

The diocese of New Westminster - which includes Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific Coast - has allowed the blessing of homosexual marriages and three other diocese have advocated gay marriage ceremonies.

African and Latin American branches of the Anglican communion have offered to take conservative congregations in Canada and the United States under their wings.

Elliot said the church does not recognize the authority of the South American archbishops in Canada so St John’s Shaughnessy does not get to keep church property in one of Canada’s richest neighborhoods if it leaves.

A spokeswoman for the congregation told the Vancouver Sun newspaper it would defend itself in court, and the vote showed that its members were united.

Elliot said the diocese recognized the right of individual congregations to disagree over policies, and the congregation’s actions were unnecessary.

Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Peter Galloway