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Orthodox Anglicans hint schism, stop short of split

PARIS (Reuters) - Conservative bishops debating the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion have issued dramatic warnings about a looming parting of the ways with liberal churches, but stopped short of outlining steps toward a schism.

The steeple of St. Paul's Anglican Church is silhouetted against the sky at sunset in Valletta, Malta, February 14, 2007. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Leaders of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), who moved a strategy session from Amman to Jerusalem after a top bishop could not enter Jordan to join them, discussed the issues on Friday after receiving a guidebook for their “pilgrimage.”

“There is no longer any hope ... for a unified Communion,” Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinole, leader of the conservative movement in the 77-million-strong Communion, wrote in the guidebook. “All journeys must end some day.”

“We know we are at a turning point in Anglican history, a place where two roads diverge,” Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, told the pre-conference meeting, according to a text released late on Thursday.

But Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen denied a schism was in the works. “I am not hearing about breaking up the Communion,” he told journalists, according to the conservative Anglican website VirtueOnline. “We are trying to renew the Communion.”

The conservatives, who claim to represent 35 million Anglicans mostly in developing countries, have been hinting at a split within the Communion at least since Anglicanism’s first openly gay bishop was consecrated in the United States in 2003.

Many of the 280 bishops attending the full GAFCON meeting next week will boycott next month’s Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly Anglican summit hosted by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams that agrees guidelines for member churches. About 800 other bishops are due to attend that meeting.


The boycotts would end the Lambeth conference’s role in uniting Anglicans and make “highly questionable” the unifying role that Williams is supposed to play, Akinola wrote.

The conservatives were true Anglicans, he said, while liberals -- especially in the United States and Canada -- “have chosen to walk away” by allowing gay clergy, blessing same-sex unions and questioning biblical authority.

Akinola said the Communion could not continue with such contradictory views and that GAFCON would seek “to give public and institutional expression to the truth of the Gospel in the public ordering of the Church.”

But he did not announce further steps, saying only that bishops at GAFCON would “look again to God’s call for future action in faithful leadership of their Anglican Churches.”

Duncan said the Communion, a loose federation of 38 member churches coordinated by what it calls “instruments of unity”, would evolve a new kind of leadership council that reflects the shift of its majority to developing countries, where more than half of all Anglicans now live.

“The inexorable shift of power from Britain and the West to the Global South cannot be stopped, and some conciliar instrument reflective of the shift is bound to emerge,” wrote Duncan, whose Episcopal Church -- Anglicanism’s U.S. branch -- has considered unseating him for his conservative activism.

The 94-page guidebook entitled “The Way, The Truth and The Life” defined the issues Anglicanism faces as struggles over authority, scripture, theological pluralism, mission work and “post-colonial power relationships.”