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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Australia church accepts gay priests
By Jane Little
BBC religious affairs correspondent

Christian symbolism
Attitudes towards homosexuals in the Church could split ranks
The Uniting Church in Australia has become the country's first mainstream denomination to accept homosexual priests.

The controversial decision risks splitting the country's third largest Church and has provoked criticism from Sydney's Anglican Church.

The Uniting Church has put itself on the conservative frontline in an international battle within the worldwide Anglican Communion over gay priests - an issue many church leaders wish would go away.

But the storm surrounding homosexuality in Christianity shows little sign of abating.

The president of Australia's Uniting Church has voted to allow the ordination of openly gay ministers.

Its president, the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton, said the Church had been living in what he called "the messy middle" for six years, and the vote formalised unofficial tolerance of gay priests.

A spokeswoman for the evangelical wing said the decision meant the Church was now "horribly close" to a full split.

Oil and water?

The Uniting Church is a protestant one which has links with the Anglican Church.

A spokesman for Sydney's Anglican Church said that it would create problems for the recognition of its Uniting Church brethren.

The Sydney Archdiocese has joined the conservative forces in the worldwide Anglican Communion's battle over the issue of gay priests and same-sex blessings.

A celibate gay priest in the Church of England, Dr Jeffrey John, was forced to resign his appointment as a bishop this month after threats from evangelicals to withdraw their congregations - and importantly their collection plates - from the church.

On Thursday, Dr John wrote that he was saddened the chance to prove himself had been taken away.

In a letter to his local paper, the Reading Chronicle, he acknowledged the support of thousands of people, many of whom told him they were tempted to leave the church in disgust.

He urged them not to but to continue to build a church that will "truly be a home to all God's children".



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