LONDON — The U.S. and Canadian wings of the Anglican Communion yesterday defended their controversial approval of homosexual bishops and same-sex unions — stances that already threaten to drive the 77-million-strong worldwide Communion to the brink of schism.
In a 130-page report to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, England, the U.S. Episcopal Church affirmed its decision to appoint an openly homosexual cleric, Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire.
Minutes later, the Anglican Church of Canada launched its defense of a decision by the western Canadian Diocese of New Westminster to authorize the blessing of homosexual unions, although its position was somewhat more conciliatory.
The tough stances taken by its North American wings, particularly the U.S. Episcopalians, fly in the face of official church policy, which declares homosexual sex as “incompatible with Scripture” and flatly rejects homosexual ordinations and same-sex unions.
The contentious issue of homosexuality leaves the Anglican Communion facing possibly the biggest crisis in its 400-plus year history — and yesterday’s moves will do little to ease the fears of many Anglicans that a major split between its liberal and conservative branches is inevitable.
“There’s going to be a divorce,” said Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the traditionalist American Anglican Council. “The question is whether it’s going to be a strictly North American divorce or whether it’s going to be Communionwide.”
At Monday’s session of the Anglican Consultative Council, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican Communion’s leader, conceded that the pro-homosexual actions by the U.S. and Canadian branches already had caused “outrage and hurt to many Anglicans around the world.
“We can’t ignore the seriousness of what divides us,” Archbishop Williams said. “We can’t guarantee anything at this point.”
At a meeting last February in Northern Ireland, primates of the 38 national Anglican churches asked the U.S. and Canadian church leaders not to attend this week’s meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, an international body of bishops, priests and laymen and women that normally is convened every three years.
But the 38 leaders also asked the North American churches to send representatives to this week’s meeting of the council in the central England city of Nottingham to explain the theological reasoning behind Bishop Robinson’s consecration in 2003 and the Canadians’ blessing of a same-sex union in New Westminster.
The U.S. Episcopal Church expressed its “deep regret” for any pain caused by the Robinson appointment — but it did not apologize — and it agreed to refrain from appointing any new homosexual bishops and from blessing any same-sex relationships for at least a year.
It was left yesterday to Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam of New York to launch the Episcopal Church’s defense. She insisted that her wing of the church believes that “a person living in a same-gendered union may be eligible to lead the flock of Christ.”
“We believe that God has been opening our eyes to acts of God that we had not known how to see before,” the church said in the document it prepared for the Anglican Consultative Council. It affirmed “the eligibility for ordination of those in covenanted same-sex unions.”
The Episcopalians claimed that “members of the Episcopal Church have discerned holiness in same-sex relationships and have come to support the blessing of such unions and the ordination or consecration of persons in those unions.”
The Episcopalians showed no indications they intend to back down. The U.S. church’s presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, insisted that “the overwhelming majority of Episcopalians are committed to living a life of unity in difference.”
Bishop Griswold’s sole concession was in his acknowledgment to the rest of the Anglican Communion that “our actions around the question of homosexuality have deeply distressed a number of you.”
The six-member American group did include one bishop who voted against the Robinson ordination, Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, and another who backed him only after expressing doubts, Bishop Neil Alexander of Georgia.
This, Bishop Griswold said in an earlier letter to U.S. bishops, “indicates that those of differing points of view can live with mutual affection and make common cause in the service of Christ’s mission.”
Conservative Anglicans were not convinced that conciliation was possible.
“We’re up against a winner-take-all approach that does not brook any dissent and will slowly but surely stifle it,” said Chris Sugden, leader of the traditionalist Anglican Mainstream group.
The Canadian representatives, although similarly refusing to back down, were somewhat milder than their Episcopal counterparts, and they left the room for further discussions.
“It’s true that we are still seeking clarity,” said Rev. Stephen Andrews, a member of the Canadian team, “but it would also be true to say that we have not changed our minds about official church teaching. The burden still rests with those who would revise the church’s teaching to make their case.”