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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 November, 2004, 11:49 GMT
'Flying bishops' offer unity to Anglicans
By Robert Pigott
BBC Religious Affairs correspondent

Gene Robinson
The ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson divided Anglicans
Anglican bishops in Canada have agreed on a system of 'flying bishops' which could provide a model for preventing the worldwide Church disintegrating over the issue of homosexuality.

Anglicans are deeply divided about whether homosexual couples can be allowed a blessing of their relationship in church, and about the ordination of gay clergy.

The ordination of a gay man, Gene Robinson, as the Bishop of New Hampshire last year created a split in the 72 million-strong Anglican Communion which remains unresolved.

Traditionalist bishops - many from Africa - have travelled to America to minister to parishes that reject the ordination of homosexual clergy.

Canadian solution

These unofficial 'flying bishops' have carried out duties such as ordaining clergy and confirming members of the Church, which would normally have been the preserve of the resident bishop.

Another cause of the split in Anglicanism was the decision by the New Westminster diocese in Vancouver, Canada, to bless same sex relationships in church services.

Another diocese, Niagara, has now voted to do the same thing, although its bishop has so far refused to ratify the decision.

Ordination of a priest
The ordination of women priests caused similar divisions
Several parishes in Vancouver have rejected same sex blessings as being against the bible, and demanded to have like-minded 'flying bishops' look after their interests.

Liberal Anglicans believe the Church should be able to reinterpret the bible, taking modern circumstances into account.

Canadian bishops have now voted to allow 'episcopal visitors' - including from overseas - to intervene in dioceses where same sex blessings are allowed.

It overturns the decision made by Canadian bishops last spring to reject flying bishops.

Similar measures were introduced in England 10 years ago to let parishes that opposed the ordination of women to bypass their own bishop in favour of a traditionalist who shared their view.

The system was controversial but may have helped to prevent a split in the Church of England over women priests.

However, a special commission set up to find ways to defuse the Anglican Communion's crisis over homosexuality last month condemned the use of flying bishops because it had inflamed the dispute.

The report also called for a moratorium on the ordination of homosexual bishops.

Mounting pressure

Others of the 43 individual churches that make up the Anglican Communion will watch closely to see whether any system of 'episcopal visitors' can help to keep liberals and traditionalists within the Canadian Church.

Some may want to allow 'flying bishops' to look after traditionalist parishes that reject gay bishops and which would otherwise break away from the Church.

Even if the Canadian experiment is successful, 'flying bishops' may be more effective at preserving unity within Anglican Churches than between them.

The greater challenge may lie in persuading traditionalist Anglican churches, such as that in Nigeria and Kenya, to co-exist with liberal ones, such as the Canadian Church.

The world's Anglicans may have to adopt a looser federation in the future rather than allow the existing split to widen into irrevocable disintegration.

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