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World Anglican Leaders Try to Prevent Split Over Homosexual Clergy - 2003-10-16

Anglican Church leaders from around the world have opened a two-day summit, focusing on the controversial issue of homosexual clergy. According to an Irish delegate, the issue may not split the church as some had feared.

The first day of the meetings at London's Lambeth Palace focussed on an exchange of views.

The special summit was called by the head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in response to the controversial election of an openly gay bishop in the U.S. state of New Hampshire.

Conservative church leaders, mainly from developing nations, say homosexuality goes against their interpretation of biblical teachings. Some have threatened to leave if the appointment of the gay bishop, Gene Robinson, is not overturned.

But after the first day of meetings, the Archbishop of Ireland, Robin Eames, said there is hope that the traditionalist and the liberal factions can find the right words to reach a compromise on the polarizing issue.

"Moving towards a consensus situation," said Mr. Eames, emerging briefly from Lambeth Palace Wednesday. "Now, what form that consensus will be, obviously will not become obvious, if it is to become obvious, until tomorrow. But certainly at the moment, it is very, very much an honest expression of concerns," he said about the current state of the talks.

And Mr. Eames predicts that the Anglican community will benefit from the tough, frank, and open discussions.

"I am optimistic that the Anglican communion will emerge from this stronger than it has ever been. But I would also like to predict that there will be much greater honesty than perhaps we have had up to now," he said.

Many religious observers see homosexuality as an issue that could result in a split of the 70 million member church.

The definitive wording of the outcome is not expected until after the end of Thursday's closed meeting.