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Last Updated: Friday, 25 February, 2005, 18:56 GMT
Anglican rift grows over gay row
Church leaders gathered in Northern Ireland
Church leaders have been divided over the issue of homosexual clergy
Anglican leaders have asked the US and Canadian Churches to withdraw from a key council temporarily because of their stance on homosexuality.

They want the North American Churches to "consider their place within the Anglican Communion", a statement said.

The Anglican community has been divided since 2003 when the US Church backed an openly gay bishop.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the withdrawal would "make space" for all parties to consider what to do.

Dr Williams, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, told a news conference: "The North American Churches have been told very clearly and directly about the potential cost of the actions they have taken."

We as a body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with the utmost seriousness
Anglican Church statement
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The Anglican Church of Canada has upset traditionalists by blessing same-sex unions.

Commentators say that if the US and Canadian Churches agree to the measures, it could be a first step towards a permanent split.

But Archbishop of Perth Peter Carnley, the primate of Australia's Anglican Church, said Anglican leaders had "no intention" of watering down the worldwide communion.

The debate has pitted traditionalists, notably from the African branches of the Anglican community, against more liberal elements.

The statement by the Church leaders calling for a withdrawal from the Anglican Consultative Council until 2008 came after a four-day meeting in Northern Ireland.

The communique said top clerics were "deeply alarmed" that the "standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality" had been "seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America".

"We as a body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with the utmost seriousness," the church leaders said.


"We request that the Episcopal Church (US) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)."

Stepping down from the ACC, a liaison body with members drawn from each province or member church, would mean a Church was no longer a full member of the Anglican family.

A leading traditionalist, the Most Rev Peter Akinola, primate of the Nigerian Church, was reported to have held a celebratory dinner as the statement was being finalised.

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The bishop of Owerri Diocese in Nigeria, Cyril Okorocha, told the BBC it was intended to remind the North Americans that their actions were "hurting" other members of the Anglican Communion.

"In any family when the child is being naughty, the parents... should let that child know that what they are doing is wrong," he said.

But James Naughton, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC, called the leaders' statement an "elegant compromise".

Moratorium call

He said the Episcopalians would accept temporary withdrawal if it created a better chance of unifying the Church, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The Anglican leadership has recommended a special hearing be held in June to allow the US and Canadian churches to explain their views on homosexuality.

The primates also asked for a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of bishops involved in gay relationships.

Dr Williams warned last week that there was no "cost-free outcome" to the debate over homosexuality in the church.

Divisions over homosexuality cause church conflicts

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