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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2005, 08:05 GMT
Call for peace in gay bishops row
Rowan Williams
Rowan Williams warned the Church could split over gay bishops
Anglican leaders should put their differences on homosexuality aside for the sake of the Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Rowan Williams and the world's 37 other Anglican primates are meeting in Newry, County Down, to try to prevent a split over the issue of gay clergy.

The ordination of the Church's first openly gay bishop Gene Robinson, in the US, has led to worldwide controversy.

During a sermon, Dr Williams said the Church must be a place of peace-making.

Speaking at Armagh Cathedral, he criticised the awkwardness with which Anglicans on either side of the debate treated each other.

Dr Williams also rebuked them for their "activism" and "determination to get an immediate resolution".

Conservative backlash

Several traditionalist primates have already broken off relations with the American church and, according to BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott, the meeting in Newry has been reportedly tense.

Some archbishops have refused to take communion with the American primate Frank Griswold.

Most conservative leaders want the American church suspended and even expelled if it fails to repent and promise not to ordain other gay bishops, and have been trying to get a majority of other primates to join them.

Church of England bishop
The ordination of gay Gene Robinson outraged conservative Anglicans

The week-long retreat in Newry was to consider the Windsor Report, which was published in 2004 in the wake of Gene Robinson's ordination and set out a strategy to calm the crisis, which has threatened to split the Church.

It also followed the appointment in England of Dr Jeffrey John, a gay but celibate clergyman, as Bishop of Reading.

But the row led to Dr John withdrawing his acceptance of the post and becoming Dean of St Albans instead.

'Deep offence'

The Windsor Report warned there would be a split in the Church unless steps were taken towards reconciliation.

It said: "Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart."

The report includes a proposal that the bishops involved in Gene Robinson's ordination apologise for causing "deep offence" among the Anglican community.

And it suggests the same bishops should also consider whether they should withdraw from representative roles within the Church.

The gathering is hosted by Archbishop Robin Eames, primate of the Church of Ireland

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