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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 22:06 GMT 23:06 UK
Is the Church too timid to act?
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online religious affairs correspondent

The Church of England and the other Anglican churches around the globe are sometimes unfairly caricatured as vague and unworldly.

This time, though, critics may well argue they are out of touch with some hard realities of life.

Whichever side of the debate about homosexuality and the church you find yourself on, this meeting has actually solved nothing.

The threat of a split remains as potent as it ever was, and the crisis will come very soon.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Williams' meeting brought church leaders together
The Archbishops of the 38 provinces that make up the worldwide Anglican Communion have spent two days praying and talking together at Lambeth Palace in London.

A statement at the end of the meeting by the Archbishops (known as primates) expressed "deep regret" about the actions of Anglicans in the US, who elected an openly gay cleric as bishop.

But it said with devastating clarity that the possibility of a split - schism, in church parlance - had not gone away and could erupt in a couple of weeks.

Crisis

The meeting had been called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, mainly in response to the anger caused by the election of Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.

A decision by Anglicans in Canada to bless same-sex unions had fuelled the traditionalists' concerns, as had the nomination of a gay man to be an English bishop.

In a key section, the primates' statement says: "If [Gene Robinson's] consecration as bishop goes ahead, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion... the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy."

Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire in August

Canon Robinson is due to be made a bishop on 2 November, and it is impossible to see how that can happen without at least some Anglicans declaring themselves "out of communion" with (in some sense separate from) the church which elected him.

Never mind that the primates agreed to set up a commission, to report within a year, as a way of trying to square the circle.

Never mind the heroic efforts of Dr Williams to put the bravest of faces on the meeting's outcome.

He spoke of the primates having "grown closer together, so that talk of winners and losers is irrelevant".

He recognised that divisions over whether gay and lesbian Christians could join the clergy would continue to cause Anglicans "pain, anger and resentment".

Conviction

Summing up, he said the primates had produced "an honest statement of where we are, of our willingness to work together, and of some of the obstacles ahead".

Some Anglicans sincerely believe homosexual Christians' only choice is to repent: until then, they say, they are by definition barred from becoming priests, let alone bishops.

Rowan Williams can now only cross his fingers and hope something will stop the church from splitting
Others think sexuality is decided by nature, not by an individual's choice, and have no problem with gay and lesbian clergy. Neither side can believe the London meeting has really solved anything.

Genuinely good men like Dr Williams can now only cross their fingers and hope that something will somehow stop the church from splitting.

Nothing they managed to do in London makes that seem remotely likely.


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