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Anglican Leaders Continue Debate Over Gay Clergy - 2003-10-16

Leaders of the Anglican Church Thursday warned the consecration of an openly gay bishop in the United States will put the church in jeopardy of breaking up. The bishops, after two days of meeting, agreed to study the issue of homosexual clergy.

The two days of talks at Lambeth Palace were characterized as honest, frank and tough.

The summit of worldwide Anglican leaders was called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, after fears of a split in the church over the recent election of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in the U.S. state of New Hampshire.

In a statement released after the summit, all 37 delegates in attendance - from both the conservative and liberal wings of the body - expressed their collective deep regret with the actions taken by the U.S. church.

The head of the worldwide Anglican Church, Archbishop Williams, said that unanimous declaration had more to do with how the church could cope with such a decision particularly in the developing world.

"Minority churches, which exist in places like Pakistan and elsewhere, depend quite a lot for their status and their public voice on being associated with a wider body, a worldwide body," he said. "When parts of that worldwide body make decisions, which may be thought to commit or involve those small local churches, they can be placed in appallingly difficult positions and their mission, their credibility is undermined."

Mr. Williams says a special panel has now been established to examine the issue of homosexual clergy. It is expected to report its findings in 12 months.

"We have achieved the setting up of a commission whose task it is to look at what the implications might be of separation, new alignments, new jurisdictions," he said. "We need to look very carefully at what our constitutions and what our cannons already provide before we encourage any such steps."

The bishops said that although no split came out of the meeting, the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, which is scheduled for November 2, could jeopardize the integrity of the worldwide church as it grapples with the difficult, polarizing issue.