The spiritual leader of the world's Anglican Christians has warned of "difficult days" ahead following the controversial appointment of the first openly gay bishop in the United States.
Williams spoke of 'difficult days' ahead
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is considered a liberal, said the election of Reverend Gene Robinson as the next Bishop of New Hampshire would have a significant impact on the Church worldwide.
Robinson was elected by 62 votes to 45 by bishops of the Episcopal Church - the US branch of the 80-million strong global Anglican Communion.
Traditionalist Anglicans have condemned Mr Robinson's appointment, which threatens to cause a split in Church ranks.
Senior clerics abroad have expressed great distress and there are plans for emergency meetings to discuss what action to take.
In a statement in London, Archbishop Williams acknowledged Mr Robinson's appointment would have a "significant impact" on the Church worldwide but said it was "too early to say" what the outcome would be.
"We need as a Church to be very careful about making decisions for our own part of the world which constrain the Church elsewhere," he said.
The BBC's Jane Little in Minneapolis, where the vote took place, says Archbishop Williams is now in a very difficult position as he tries to prevent a schism.
Conservatives say Mr Robinson's election has already shattered the Church, and they are planning a meeting of like-minded Anglicans, including archbishops from the developing world, to plot a possible future outside the American Church, our correspondent reports.
Mr Robinson was confirmed in his new post hours after he was cleared of sexual misconduct allegations.
Episcopal Church spokesman Daniel England called the vote "an important step", but Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who had campaigned against Mr Robinson, said he and other bishops were "filled with sorrow".
ANGLICANS IN AMERICA
There are two million baptised Episcopalians
The Anglican Church has 80m members worldwide
America has 236m Christians
He said the Episcopal Church had "divided itself from millions of Anglicans throughout the world".
Fiercest criticism came from the American Anglican Council, a conservative Episcopal group, which said the Episcopal Church had "departed from the historical Christian faith. We reject these actions of our Church".
The vote was also deplored among sections of the Anglican community worldwide, with Church leaders in Asia denouncing the appointment of a homosexual bishop as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
Earlier this year, bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America - representing a third of Anglicans worldwide - severed ties with a Canadian diocese which authorised same-sex blessings.