LONDON — Leaders of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion reproached U.S. Episcopalians yesterday for appointing an openly homosexual bishop, but conceded that they had no power to stop his consecration.
If the Episcopalians, who make up one province of the Anglican Communion, go ahead with the consecration of Canon V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, “the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy,” 37 primates of the church warned in a public statement concluding a two-day emergency conference.
“We have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion,” the primates’ statement said. Consecration of Canon Robinson “will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level and may lead to further division on this and further issues.”
The statement was signed by all 37 church leaders, but the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, sounded a defiant note at a news conference just minutes later.
“While anything can happen, including the Second Coming, I expect to be in New Hampshire on the second of November,” he said. Nov. 2 is the scheduled date for the consecration of Mr. Robinson, a divorced father of two who has lived with his male lover for more than a decade, as the new bishop of New Hampshire.
The Diocese of New Hampshire responded yesterday with a jubilant statement lauding Anglican leaders for their “wisdom” and inviting them to consecration ceremonies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
“We invite them to join us in worshipping, praying, studying Scripture, breaking bread and celebrating our unity in God’s love and mercy,” it said. “We grieve that others in the Anglican Communion have felt deep pain with these issues. Despite our differences, we pray that we can move forward together in service to our Lord.”
The primates’ statement said they all “deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church U.S.A.” in evading provisions of the Anglican Church’s 1998 resolution that rejected the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Scripture.” New Westminster in British Columbia was the scene of a same-sex blessing that also roiled the church.
Bishop Griswold announced that he numbered himself among “those of us who are not part of that deep regret.” He added that “I stand fully behind the Diocese of New Hampshire as to who it wants as its next bishop.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who convened the crisis meeting of the Anglican leaders for what he described as “two demanding days” to try to resolve the issue of homosexuality in the church, appeared to have failed on that point, at least for now.
“Any talk of winners and losers is irrelevant,” Archbishop Williams said after the meetings at London’s 12th-century Lambeth Palace. “Certainly, there is pain and anger and misunderstanding. … We can be in no doubt about the work still to be done.”
That work will include the establishment by Archbishop Williams of a commission to continue examining the issue.
The 37 primates jointly agreed that the commission should be instructed “to include urgent and deep theological and legal reflection on the way in which the dangers we have identified at this meeting will have to be addressed.”
The statement also asked the various national churches in the Anglican Communion “to make adequate provision for oversight [by bishops] of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the archbishop of Canterbury.”
The primates rejected — at least for the time being — a demand by U.S. conservatives that Bishop Griswold’s Episcopal Church be booted out of the Anglican community.
Rather, their statement said, “We urge our provinces not to act precipitately on these wider questions, but take time to share in this process of reflection and to consider their own constitutional requirements as individual provinces face up to potential realignments.”
The immediate concern for the archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the Anglican Communion remained the potential fallout from the Robinson case.
“In most of our provinces,” the primates said, “the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop.”
Their statement contained a clear warning of tough, turbulent times — and possibly even schism — to come: “In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognized by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of communion with the Episcopal Church U.S.A.”