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Gay crisis fallout: Major changes proposed for 77 million Anglicans and Episcopalians

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

LONDON (AP) A written constitution, new powers for the archbishop of Canterbury, a looser federation of national churches these ideas reportedly are among proposals being considered by a commission that is seeking a way to hold the Anglican Communion together.

There's no obvious formula for reconcilation among the world's 77 million Anglicans and Episcopalians. Some support the elevation of V. Gene Robinson, a gay man living with a partner, as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism. Many more regard this, and the ordination of other openly gay clergy, to be a repudiation of the Bible and Anglican tradition.

Anglicanism's split could worsen June 2 if the Anglican Church of Canada General Synod approves a proposed bill authorizing all bishops and dioceses to sanction blessings of ''committed same-sex unions'' if they wish. The decision of one Canadian diocese, New Westminster in Vancouver, to approve blessing rituals for same-sex couples has already provoked condemnation elsewhere in the communion.

This fundamental dispute over sexual morality and biblical tradition has stretched Anglicanism's customary tolerance for diversity to the breaking point.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglicans' spiritual leader, held an emergency summit with the heads (called primates) of the 38 self-governing national branches last year. He then appointed Ireland's Archbishop Robin Eames to head the 17-member Lambeth Commission that is seeking a solution.

With Canada partly in mind, Eames recently appealed to the irreconcilables on both sides of the church debate to avoid precipitate action until the commission has completed its work. The panel meets June 13-17 near Hendersonville, N.C., and again in September, and is scheduled to complete its report in October.

At a news conference during Ireland's synod this month, Eames was asked about the possibility of a written constitution.

''The question is, do you write rules and, having written these rules, then try to get agreement from those who do not want to be bound by rules? If that is done, then it will be the first time we have done it,'' Eames said, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

A constitution, Eames added, would probably not sit well with those who want the 38 national branches to have looser ties.

That loosened concept of world Anglicanism is another idea reported to be in play, remodeling the communion more along lines of the Lutheran World Federation, which has no entity with pre-eminence comparable to that of the Church of England, the see of Canterbury and its archbishop.

The Church of England Newspaper, a weekly that reflects conservative evangelical opinion, says a loosened federation is the preferred strategy of liberals who support gay bishops and clergy.

A third idea in circulation, reported by The Daily Telegraph, would turn the archbishop of Canterbury into sort of a low-voltage pope with new powers to adjudicate disputes within the communion.

Speaking to Ireland's synod, Williams expressed no firm hope that Eames' commission could solve matters to everyone's satisfaction. Rather, he said, the commission was ''seeking to find what degree of communion we as Anglicans can share when actions and attitudes across the world differ so sharply.''

Eames has released a letter listing broad issues identified by the commission:

The nature of autonomy for the 38 national branches, which in the past went their own way, for instance, on women priests and bishops.

The status of institutions of Anglican Communion unity such as the see of Canterbury.

The meaning of authority within Anglicanism.

A major factor is the large, growing African churches that are aghast at the liberalism in the United States and Canada. But there are also sharp differences among the Canadians, and U.S. Episcopalians have formed a network that repudiates the leadership, institutions and policies of their denomination.

The difficulties Williams and Eames confront were obvious in a May exchange of letters.

U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold wrote all world primates that he understood the American decisions caused suffering and made some into ''a laughing stock'' through association with the Episcopal Church. But he expressed hope that despite differences, Anglicans will ''rediscover our common ground in service to God's continuing work of reconciliation.''

In response, Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables, leader for six South American nations, told Griswold that the Episcopal Church had broken away from the ''biblical faith and practice of Christianity as accepted for 2000 years'' and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the world's Anglican bishops at a 1998 meeting.

''That view of autonomy is the opposite of everything Anglicanism has always stood for,'' Venables said.

On the Net:

Eames' panel: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ecumenical/commissions/lambeth/inde x.cfm



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