Episcopal leaders act to avert a schism, vow restraint on more gay bishops

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams


The Episcopal bishops of the United States, attempting to avoid a schism, promised to "exercise restraint" by not approving more gay bishops and not authorizing a formal ritual for blessing same-sex unions.

The pledge is part of an eight-point statement issued Sept. 25 in the final minutes of a six-day meeting in New Orleans, reported the Globe. According to church officials, it reduces the likelihood that the Episcopal Church will be ousted from the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, referred to the statement as a clarification of positions already articulated by the U.S. bishops, but said she hopes that "our sacrificial actions and united actions" will help stave off schism.

The bishops’ eight-point statement also criticizes actions by Anglican bishops from the developing world (mostly from Africa and Latin America) who have agreed to oversee conservative clergy and congregations in the U.S.

It calls for the Archbishop of Canterbury to find a way for openly gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire to attend next summer's Lambeth Conference and for “unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety and dignity of gay and lesbian persons."

"I think we did better than I expected," Bishop John W. Howe of Central Florida told the Globe. Bishop Howe is one of the most conservative bishops present at the meeting. He said he did not vote for the statement because it did not bar blessings of same-sex unions outright, but he also believed the majority of Anglican primates would find it acceptable.

Asked if he would try to remove his diocese from the Episcopal Church, Bishop Howe said "absolutely not."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at a press conference here Friday said he would spend the next days reviewing the bishops' statement and consulting with other Anglican leaders before deciding how to respond to the American bishops' statement. But Episcopal Church officials said Tuesday that Anglican Communion leaders had been briefed on the bishops' statement and were satisfied.

However, when Bishop Martin Minns was asked about the meeting his response sounded notably less optimistic than the official statements made about the meeting.

Bishop Martyn Minns of Fairfax, Virginia  commented that the conversation about the church splitting is becoming an issue of "when" rather than "if." “We've had years of meetings with no movement," said Minns, who is also a leader of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a network of churches that are considering severing ties with the U.S. church to form a network with an international body. "Sooner or later, we're going to have to acknowledge that the current approach isn't working."

CANA is gathering this week in Pittsburgh to discuss their future. Four or five of the 110 Episcopal dioceses are talking about trying to leave the Episcopal Church.

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