- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — A key Episcopal panel yesterday defied the worldwide Anglican Communion, saying U.S. church leaders should continue their march toward full acceptance of homosexuality.

The Episcopal Executive Council said that Anglican leaders, called primates, cannot make decisions for the American denomination, which is the Anglican body in the United States.

“We question the authority of the primates to impose deadlines and demands upon any of the churches of the Anglican Communion,” the council said after a meeting in Parsippany, N.J.

The worldwide Anglican Communion has moved toward the brink of splitting since the Episcopal Church consecrated V. Gene Robinson, an open homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

In February, Anglican leaders demanded that Episcopalians allow a panel that would include overseas Anglicans to oversee conservative Episcopal parishes in the United States. Episcopalians also were given until Sept. 30 to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another openly homosexual bishop or authorize official blessings for same-sex unions, as some parts of the U.S. church have done.

The Executive Council did not speak directly to the other demands in its statement yesterday, but said it has struggled “to embrace people who have historically been marginalized.”

“Today this struggle has come to include the place of gay and lesbian people and their vocations in the life of the church,” the council wrote.

The document approved by the 38-member panel of clergy and lay people is not the final word from the U.S. church. Episcopal bishops will give the denomination’s official response during a meeting Sept. 20 to 25 in New Orleans. The prelates strongly indicated at a March gathering that although they wanted to stay in the communion, they considered the demands unacceptable.

The 77-million-member communion is a loose association of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England. Each Anglican province is self-governing, and the communion’s spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has no direct authority to force a compromise.

But in a series of emergency summits and private negotiations over the last four years, Archbishop Williams has worked to prevent a schism. Under pressure from Episcopal leaders, he has agreed to attend the bishops meeting in New Orleans.

Last month, he announced that neither Bishop Robinson nor Bishop Martyn Minns, head of a group of breakaway U.S. Episcopal parishes aligned with the Anglican Church of Nigeria, would be invited to the communion’s once-a-decade Lambeth Conference. Bishop Minns’ group, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, was formed by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola as a mission to the United States.

In an interview with Time, Archbishop Williams said a split isn’t inevitable but that the communion “feels very vulnerable and very fragile, perhaps more so than it’s been for a very long time.”