Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Thursday, 27 September 2007 13:28 UK

US Anglicans reject gay bishops

Gene Robinson
The ordination of gay Bishop Gene Robinson divided Anglicans

Leaders of the Episcopal Church in the US have agreed to halt the consecration of gay priests as bishops to prevent a split in the Anglican Communion.

They reaffirmed disapproval of official prayers to bless same-sex unions.

Many African Anglicans threatened to leave the worldwide Anglican Communion after the ordination of the first openly gay bishop four years ago.

The US Church had until 30 September to respond to Anglican leaders' calls that it define its position on the issue.

US bishops made the decision after a six-day meeting in New Orleans.

The meeting was attended in part by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who urged the Episcopal Church to make concessions for the sake of unity.

The Episcopal Church is the American wing of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members worldwide.

Plea for unity

The statement urged bishops to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration" of candidates whose lifestyle "challenged" the wider church.

The agreement means that while the Church cannot stop dioceses from selecting a gay candidate for bishop, it can refrain from approving those candidates, says BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott.

It will help defuse the crisis triggered by the US Church's consecration of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003, our correspondent says.

But traditionalists in the US are already making plans to set up their own independent Church.

Conservative churchgoers believe active homosexuality is contrary to the Anglican Communion's teachings, which are rooted in the bible.

However, liberal Anglicans have argued that biblical teachings on inclusion should take precedence.

The Episcopal bishops did reaffirm their commitment to the civil rights of gay people and said they opposed any violence towards them or violation of their dignity.

The meeting in New Orleans follows a summit of Anglican leaders in Tanzania earlier in the year which gave the US Episcopal Church until 30 September to define its position on the issue.

The leaders threatened that a failure to do so would leave their relationship with the US branch of Anglicanism "damaged at best".

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Divisions over gay clergy within the Anglican Church


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