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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 23:50 GMT
Church gay sex row erupts

gay pride march Homosexuality is anathema to many Anglicans


By News Online's Alex Kirby

The worldwide Anglican communion is in crisis after its leader, the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, refused to recognise the consecration of two American priests as bishops.

The communion, a federation of Anglican churches with a combined membership of about 70 million worshippers, now faces a public split over the place within it of gay and lesbian Christians.

The row has its origins in the liberal views on homosexuality held by many North American Anglicans, and the much more austere stance of some in the developing world.

Last month two senior traditionalist Anglicans decided to challenge the liberals by appointing bishops "to uphold basic Christian teaching" on sexuality in the US.

Consecrated

The two are the archbishop of South East Asia, the Most Revd Moses Tay, and the Archbishop of Rwanda, the Most Revd Emmanuel Kolini.

Assisted by another Rwandan bishop and two retired bishops from the US, they consecrated two American priests, Charles Murphy and John Rodgers, as bishops to work in the US.

lambeth palace The stormclouds are gathering over Lambeth Palace
Murphy and Rodgers said they were "stepping forward at this moment of crisis in an initiative aimed at reversing a 30-year decline of 30% in the membership of the episcopal church in the US."

The two archbishops said they had acted to counter "apostasy" (the renunciation of the faith).

The consecrations, which took place in Singapore, are valid sacraments of the church, but are almost without precedent. They were repudiated by the presiding US Anglican bishop.

They have been described as "the most serious threat to the authority of an archbishop of Canterbury since the 18th century", when the Methodists split from the Anglicans.

Rejected

Dr Carey condemned the consecration of Murphy and Rodgers at the time as "irresponsible". But now he has gone much further.

In a letter to all the Anglican bishops, Dr Carey, the Anglican communion's president, says he "cannot recognise their episcopal ministry" - in other words, he does not regard them as genuine bishops.

He cites Anglican rules and practice in support of his judgement that the consecration of the two men was "illegal".

archbishop of canterbury George Carey has to try to keep the church intact
But the letter will impose even greater strains on the Anglican church. The archbishop of Canterbury is always its president, but each of its provinces - the area headed by an archbishop - is independent.

For Dr Carey to tell his fellow archbishops from Asia and Africa that they have acted illegally is to take Anglicans into uncharted waters.

The result may be that leaders like Dr Tay and Dr Kolini will decide there is no longer any room for them in the church.

Meeting

The 1998 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury of all the Anglican bishops agreed a largely traditionalist resolution on human sexuality, which many gay and lesbian Christians found offensive.

But even that looks now to be incapable of holding the church together much longer.

Next month the Anglican archbishops will hold a week-long meeting in Portugal. Dr Carey's letter will be high on their agenda.

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See also:
21 Sep 99 |  UK
Anglicans silent about gay sex
01 Sep 99 |  Scotland
Boycott threat by archbishop
05 Dec 98 |  UK
Church struggles to understand gays
08 Aug 98 |  UK
Lambeth 1998: Unity at a price

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