- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury conceded yesterday for the first time that the worldwide Anglican Communion may have to split.

The six-page letter, “The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today,” was sent yesterday to the archbishops who oversee the world’s 38 Anglican provinces in response to last week’s Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

Archbishop Rowan Williams said the 70-million-member Anglican Communion may require a “covenant” defining theological orthodoxy on a wide range of matters, including homosexuality.

Local parishes that do not agree to it may be relegated to “associate” status, he said.

“We could arrive at a situation where there were ‘constituent’ churches in covenant in the Anglican Communion and other ‘churches in association,’ which were still bound by historic and perhaps personal links,” he wrote, “but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion, and not sharing the same constitutional structures.”

The Anglican Communion has been struggling with who’s in and who’s out since the 2003 consecration of the world’s first openly homosexual Episcopal prelate: New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson. Twenty-two Anglican provinces have since partially or fully broken relations with the American church.

These 22 provinces are not guilty of “some kind of blind bigotry against gay people,” wrote the archbishop. Americans never asked the permission of other Anglicans before electing Bishop Robinson, he said, adding, “no member church can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship.”

Episcopalians need to accept “that actions have consequences,” he said, “and that actions believed in good faith to be ‘prophetic’ in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences.”

Response to his letter was slow yesterday, although a post on the “Daily Episcopalian” blog from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington pronounced the archbishop “entirely wrong.”

“He, like many others, is suggesting that the struggle in the Anglican Communion is not about homosexuality but about how we make decisions in concert,” wrote Jim Naughton, diocesan spokesman. “To me that is similar to saying that the American Civil War was not about slavery but about states’ rights. Both arguments allow you to ignore sins against humanity while you debate the nature of polity.”

Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, which encompasses 10 conservative dioceses, praised the bulletin.

“For the first time, the archbishop himself is acknowledging that some parts of the communion will not be able to continue in full membership if they insist on maintaining teaching and action outside of the received faith and order,” he said in a statement.

“This will surely create a situation where affiliates of the Anglican Communion Network and others who so choose would be able to continue in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the worldwide church, while the majority of the Episcopal Church would have only ‘associated’ status.”

Although a majority of the General Convention voted last week to extend indefinitely a moratorium on future homosexual prelates, 20 Episcopal bishops immediately drafted a dissenting statement refusing to honor it.

Archbishop Williams’ idea of a communion-wide covenant, which also was approved by the Episcopal General Convention, could have a major effect in U.S. courts. At present, conservative churches wishing to leave the Episcopal Church must abandon their property and assets. This could change if these same conservative congregations were named full members of the Anglican Communion while their liberal dioceses were not.

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