LONDON (Reuters) - The Archbishop of Canterbury’s latest proposal to mediate a gay rights dispute splitting the worldwide Anglican Communion seems to be falling on deaf ears in the opposing camps he is trying to discipline.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, suggested last week that member churches approving gay bishops and same-sex unions and those actively opposing them be sidelined from official doctrinal committees.
The initiative was sparked by the consecration of an openly lesbian bishop in California last month. Williams also said conservative churches — mostly in Africa — that appoint bishops to serve in other countries would also be sidelined.
The proposal, if accepted in the Communion, would be the first time such sanctions would be imposed on dissident national churches. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism is a federation of churches whose head has no direct power over all members.
A group campaigning for homosexual rights in the Communion said the threatened discipline caused it little worry because the committees the dissenters could not work on were “trivial.”
“These are delaying tactics, sops to the conservatives, which in reality gives them nothing,” Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, UK, told Reuters.
The Episcopal bishop of California accused Williams of “creating a different kind of Anglicanism, more like the centralized, doctrinalised polity of the Roman Catholic Church.”
“When an empire and its exponents can no longer exercise control by might, an option is to feint, double-talk and manipulate,” Bishop Marc Andrus wrote on his blog.
Equally dismissive comments came from Bishop David Anderson, who heads the conservative American Anglican Council launched to oppose liberal trends in the Episcopal Church, the official U.S. member church in the Anglican Communion.
“In an hour when the Anglican Church globally needs sound, clear and orthodox leadership at the top, the captain of the Anglican Communion seems to be below decks preoccupied with lesser things,” he wrote.
The Anglican Church in Nigeria, one of the most active orthodox churches in opposing gay bishops and appointing conservative bishops to work in the U.S., has not yet issued an official reaction to the proposal Williams made.
But it recently seemed to step up its campaign against liberal policies when its primate, Archbishop Nicholas Okah, was reported to have urged his country to withdraw from the United Nations because of its support for homosexual rights.
The Anglican Communion was rocked in 2003 by the Episcopal Church’s consecration of its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, an event that reflected a wider struggle over authority and Biblical interpretation within Anglicanism.
Working to avoid a schism, the Communion urged the U.S. Church not to appoint another homosexual bishop until the issue could be resolved with orthodox Anglicans, mostly in Africa.
Those churches reacted by consecrating conservative U.S. bishops and encouraging dissenting parishes and dioceses leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with their churches.
The consecration of lesbian Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool in May brought the tensions to a head once again.
Williams wrote: “There are still things being done that the representative bodies of the Communion have repeatedly pleaded should not be done and this leads to recrimination, confusion and bitterness all round.”
Primates of the Communion member churches will consider the archbishop’s proposal to ban those members from attending discussions with other Christian denominations and from voting on a central doctrinal body at their next meeting in January.
Editing by Tom Heneghan