The Anglican Church in Australia has split over the question of whether marriage is only between a man and a woman and accusations that bishops are out of touch with grassroots Anglicans. 

The Diocese of the Southern Cross was officially launched in Canberra on Sunday, and former Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies was named its first bishop.

“I think you’ll see the Diocese of the Southern Cross will have a significant impact,” the 71-year-old told the Sydney Morning Herald, saying many Anglicans felt the Australian church had strayed from the teachings of the Bible.

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Adelaide Archbishop Geoffrey Smith, labeled the move as “perplexing” in a statement published Thursday.

A meeting of the General Synod “held in May this year clearly affirmed the view that marriage is between a man and a woman, and declined to affirm same-sex marriage,” Smith said. 

“It is perplexing, therefore that the leaders of this breakaway movement cite the reason for this new denomination as the failure of General Synod to explicitly express an opinion against the blessing of same-sex marriages.”

However, an attempt by the Sydney archdiocese to affirm that marriage is only between a man and a woman was narrowly voted down at a synod in May, prompting warnings of the risk of a schism.

Notably, the statement upholding the traditional view of marriage was passed by the house of the laity by 63 votes to 47 and by the house of clergy by 70 votes to 39. But the bishops exercised their veto power by rejecting the statement by 12 to 10, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Two bishops abstained.

This led to accusations that bishops were out of touch with grassroots Anglicans. 

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Tasmanian Anglican Bishop Richard Condie, who supports the new Diocese of the Southern Cross, told the Herald Sun on Aug. 17 that disaffected Anglican clergy and laypeople who “can no longer sit under the authority of their bishop” would be drawn to the new diocese.

Deep divisions over a statement on banning same-sex marriage emerged recently at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England. 

The worldwide Anglican Communion, including its American branch, the Episcopalian Church, has been in tension over same-sex marriage issues for years. 

In 2009, former members of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, disaffected by those communities' liberalization on homosexuality, formed the Anglican Church in North America.

Like the breakaway group in Canada and the Church of Confessing Anglicans founded in 2019 in New Zealand, the new, nationwide diocese in Australia is aligned with the Global Anglican Future Conference.

According to the 2016 census, 3.1 million Australians identified as Anglicans, making it the second-largest Christian denomination in that country; the largest is the Roman Catholic Church.