Page last updated at 04:20 GMT, Tuesday, 17 April 2007 05:20 UK

Primate warns church over gay row

Gene Robinson
The ordination of gay Bishop Gene Robinson divided Anglicans

The Anglican Church risks being torn apart by the rows over gay clergy, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.

Speaking on a visit to Canada, Dr Rowan Williams said the Church had real differences of conviction within it.

He said the debate was bigger than the gay clergy issue - it was about "the forms of behaviour that the Church has the freedom or the authority to bless".

US Episcopal leaders are resisting calls for the appointment of a separate leader for members opposing gay clergy.

The Episcopal Church is the American wing of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion. In 2003 it consecrated an openly gay bishop, sparking dozens of its own parishes to leave.

In February, Anglican leaders threatened the Americans with expulsion unless they agreed to a separate leader for a traditionalist wing of their Church.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams says a divide in the Anglican Church is possible

US bishops rejected the plan as harmful and spiritually unsound - but they reiterated their wish to stay inside the communion.

The worldwide Anglican Communion has given the US Church until 30 September to change its position. Dr Williams plans to visit America shortly before the deadline expires.

Speaking in Canada, he said: "It's not just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians, and nasty people who want not to include them.

"The question is, really, 'What are the forms of behaviour that the Church has the freedom or the authority to bless if it wants to be faithful to scripture and tradition?'

"That's the question which is tearing us apart at the moment."

Dr Williams said he would try to keep people talking to each other about the issue for as long as possible in the hope that an agreement could be reached.




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