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Anglican summit scrutinizes U.S. stance on gay clergy

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - The U.S. Episcopal Church has taken some steps in response to criticism of its backing for gay priests and same-sex unions, an archbishop said on Thursday, as Anglican leaders tried to avoid a formal split in the church over homosexuality.

The Anglican primates, holding a summit this week in Tanzania, are grappling with a row that threatens to create a lasting split in the 77-million-strong church.

A group of senior Anglicans have drawn up a report saying

the U.S. church has on the whole responded positively to criticism after it consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003, infuriating traditionalists.

The Anglican Church’s spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is battling to hold together a liberal minority and a conservative majority.

“It’s fair to say that the general mood of the meeting is that there’s more work to be done. The real work has to be done within the Episcopal Church itself,” Archbishop of Australia Peter Aspinall told a news conference.

Williams has come under pressure from conservatives who denounce homosexuality as sinful to discipline the liberal U.S. Episcopal Church for appointing openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, a move they say flouts Biblical commands.

Many conservative Anglicans are angry with the U.S. church for then appointing a presiding bishop who supports Robinson and for what they see as its failure to implement the 2004 Windsor Report -- commissioned by Williams in response to the outcry over Robinson’s consecration.

But according to a group of senior Anglicans, including Williams, the U.S. church has satisfied two out of three key recommendations in the report.

The group said the Episcopalians responded adequately to demands they express regret over Robinson’s elevation and impose a moratorium on any more like it. But it said the U.S. church had failed to make clear that it opposed the blessing of same-sex unions.


“There’s a lack of clarity there and not full satisfaction with the Episcopal Church’s response to that,” Aspinall said, adding that some U.S. parishes still recognized gay unions, contrary to the line taken by the Episcopal leadership.

The Anglican primates also met three American bishops on Thursday -- representing the hard-line conservative, moderate conservative and liberal wings of the church -- to discuss a range of issues including sexuality.

Aides to U.S. presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, whose presence at the summit has raised hackles among some African archbishops, say she will not waver from her liberal stance on homosexuality.

Her refusal to back down may fuel the call by many conservatives to set up another Anglican church in the United States, led by a “moderator”, to rival the Episcopal one.

Some officials say such a proposal might aggravate the Anglican split by setting a precedent for other groups who feel marginalized by or at odds with their national churches.

It is likely the Jefferts Schori camp would oppose any move that would effectively break apart the Episcopal Church and create serious financial and property conflicts, even if it were presented as a solution to the bitter deadlock paralyzing the Anglican Communion.