LONDON (Reuters) - The Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of 77 million Anglicans worldwide, has not invited two wayward bishops to a major conference next year, a move likely to stir controversy in the deeply divided communion.
Archbishop Rowan Williams has sent invitations to more than 800 Anglican bishops asking them to attend the Lambeth Conference in July and August 2008, but has not invited two American bishops, Gene Robinson and Martyn Minns.
Robinson has caused division since he was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and became the Anglican Church’s first openly gay bishop.
Robinson said he was deeply disappointed by Williams’s decision. “How does it make sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from the discussion?” he asked in a statement.
“Isn’t it time that the bishops of the Church stop talking about us and start talking with us?”
Minns, a deeply conservative Episcopalian, was installed last year as the head of a new Nigerian-based church branch in the United States designed as a refuge for orthodox believers. The Anglican Communion does not recognize his position.
“This crisis in the Anglican Communion is not about a few individual bishops but about a worldwide Communion that is torn at its deepest level,” Minns said.
Williams said in his statement: “I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion.”
“I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognizes and honors the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this.”
It is possible that others will either not be invited or will have their invitations withdrawn before the conference takes place if anything “untoward or unacceptable” occurs between now and then, an Anglican spokesman said.
“There are one or two other cases where the archbishop is currently seeking further advice,” Tim Livesey, the head of public affairs for Lambeth Palace, told reporters.
Next year’s Lambeth Conference, the 14th to be held since 1867, promises to involve intense discussion on ideological and doctrinal issues that have caused serious rifts within the communion in recent years. The African church is generally becoming more conservative and other parts are breaking away.
Events such as the Lambeth Conference, which does not determine Church doctrine, are supposed to be a forum for reflection and discussion, and an opportunity to overcome internal problems.
While the non-invitation of Robinson and Minns is likely to provoke debate, particularly in the United States and Africa, Livesey said it was possible Robinson, at least, could be allowed to come as a “guest” of the conference -- a minor concession that might temper criticism.
“The archbishop is currently studying that possibility,” Livesey said.