National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 24, 2003

Anglicans try to dodge open schism


Anglican leaders said Oct. 16 their global communion will be “put in jeopardy” if U.S. Episcopalians proceed with the consecration of their first openly gay bishop.

In a unanimous statement at the end of a two-day crisis meeting on their deep divisions over homosexuality, leaders of 37 national churches called on members not to react precipitously. But they appeared to concede that some parts of the church would cut off communion with the New Hampshire diocese or the whole Episcopal church.

They also called on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to establish a commission to study the divisions and report within a year.

As NCR went to press Oct. 16, the leaders of the world’s 77 million Anglicans were just concluding a two-day closed meeting to see if they can find a way to resolve without schism disputes over the election of a gay bishop and blessings of same-sex marriage.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, called the extraordinary meeting of the primates in August following the U.S. Episcopal church’s affirmation of the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson to be bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is openly gay. Thirty-seven of the 38 primates attended the meeting.

“If his consecration proceeds, we recognize that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the communion itself will be put in jeopardy,” the Anglican primates’ final statement said. Robinson’s consecration is scheduled for Nov. 2.

Conservatives, led by the primate of the Anglican church in Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, have condemned the U.S. church’s action as well as a decision earlier in the summer by the bishop of New Westminster, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to approve a liturgy for use in blessing same-sex unions.

In the United States, conservatives, organized as the American Anglican Council, have announced that they will no longer financially support the Episcopal church (as the Anglican church is known in the United States) and may leave the denomination.

U.S. conservatives want Williams to declare the Episcopal church “out of communion” with the worldwide communion.

When the American Anglican Council met in Dallas Oct. 8 to hash out its position, they received a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who sent the Catholic church’s “fraternal regards.”

The letter from Ratzinger received a standing ovation when it was read to the more than 2,600 participants. Meeting organizers said it was sent “on behalf of Pope John Paul II.”

“The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond [Dallas], and even in this city [Rome] from which St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ’s Gospel in England,” said the letter, as released by the American Anglican Council.

“I pray in particular that God’s will may be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself,” the letter said. The council did not say when or to whom it was sent.

Bishop Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop in the United States, has insisted that the church’s approval of Robinson should not be seen as an end to the debate and discussion of the issue of human sexuality but as a ratification of the action of a local diocese’s right to elect its own leaders.

The Nigerian church has already said it is not in communion with the Canadian New Westminster diocese.

Despite the calls for action from conservatives, however, the decentralized, non-hierarchical nature of the Anglican Communion makes it very difficult to impose discipline on dioceses and provinces that are essentially autonomous.

In August, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the Catholic bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the Episcopal decisions “reflect a departure from the common understanding of the meaning and purpose of human sexuality and the morality of homosexual activity as found in sacred scripture and the Christian tradition.”

“As such, they have serious implications in the search for Christian unity and for the work of our bilateral Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States,” he added.

Pope John Paul II had a similar message for Williams when they met at the Vatican Oct. 4.

“As we give thanks for the progress that has already been made, we must also recognize that new and serious difficulties have arisen on the path to unity,” the pope told Williams. “These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature. Some extend to essential matters of faith and morals.” At a news conference later, Williams said the Catholic church’s concern would be communicated to the Anglican primates.

National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2003

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