Page last updated at 20:23 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 21:23 UK

Oppose gay bishops, Anglicans urged

Robert Pigott
Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

Anglican bishops at Canterbury Cathedral
Bishops are meeting at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury

A group of senior Anglican clergy has told the Lambeth Conference that liberal churches must end the ordination of gay bishops and stop blessing same-sex relationships if the Communion is to arrest its slide towards a permanent split.

The working party given the task of finding possible solutions to the rift told the 650 bishops meeting in Canterbury that traditionalist churches in Africa must also stop setting up parallel church bodies in the United States as homes for congregations splitting away from the American Church because of the dispute.

The group, headed by the former President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Middle East, Clive Handford, said in the long term some sort of statement of shared beliefs and an agreement to abide by them would be necessary.

But in the short term, a ban on gay bishops and blessings was needed to prevent "irreparable damage" to the Communion.

Bishop Handford made it clear that did not mean that the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, should resign.

It's a bit like having a member of the family who is not getting on with the family
Clive Handford
Former archbishop

But it did mean the Episcopal Church promising not to repeat such ordinations.

It also meant African archbishops from countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda must withdraw from the US, where they have been establishing alternative Anglican churches for traditionalists, and ordaining bishops to look after them.

Bishop Handford acknowledged that would leave a number of congregations currently under the care of African archbishops without a home.

A new "pastoral forum" would care for them, pending a more formal agreement.

He said: "It's a bit like having a member of the family who is not getting on with the family, having an aunt or uncle who can take them under their wing while they work for the restoration of the family."

The pastoral forum would also respond to departures from Anglican tradition - such as the provision of church blessings for homosexual couples in the Vancouver diocese in Canada.

And the working party's document hinted at potential sanctions against such breaches of conventional Anglicanism, saying it would offer guidance on "any diminishment of standing within the Communion [that] might be appropriate…".

'Long-term commitment'

It is a sign of official recognition that some sort of two-tier Communion could be among the least-worst outcomes of the crisis over homosexuality.

The prospect of the Episcopal Church making any long-term promise not to ordain actively homosexual bishops, or to forbid the creation of official services for same-sex blessings, seems remote.

The crisis that followed Gene Robinson's ordination in 2003 has not prevented a number of American dioceses - including Newark and California - putting openly gay clergy on shortlists for selection as bishop.

Traditionalist American bishops in Canterbury said a renewed moratorium on gay bishops and blessings probably would persuade conservative Anglicans to abandon the creation of the alternative church envisaged by the "alternative Lambeth" conference of traditionalists in Jerusalem last month.

But one said "there's a lot of momentum, and we would need to be sure it was a long-term commitment".

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