Anglican crisis talks 'to last into the night'
By Jonathan Petre
Religion Correspondent, in Dar Es Salaam
February 19, 2007
The worldwide Anglican Church was struggling to reach a consensus tonight about how to resolve its bitter dispute over homosexuality. The Church's primates, who are meeting in Tanzania, were deadlocked over key areas of their final communiqué, which is supposed to reflect the views of the whole gathering.
Embarrassed officials had to postpone a press conference at which they had intended to unveil the communiqué, explaining that talks were expected to go on into the night.
One said that if the primates failed to resolve their differences tonight, they may not release a communiqué at all, a development that would be regarded as signalling a profound split.
It was believed that the Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is leading a rearguard action by a rump of hardline conservatives.
They were deeply unhappy with early drafts of the communiqué because it fails to rebuke the liberal American Episcopal Church for bringing Anglicanism to the brink of schism by consecrating its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
They are also concerned that it does not provide sufficient protection for American conservatives who have rejected the leadership of their liberal Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Archbishop Akinola demonstrated his growing distance from many of his colleagues by failing to make the trip to the island of Zanzibar on Sunday for a service in the Anglican cathedral at which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, preached.
Although he told officials that he was suffering from a bad back, he has since been seen walking around, apparently in no discomfort.
It is believed, however, that he used the time to plan his strategy and draw up a dissenting minority statement for the conservative group which they may issue if the impasse cannot be broken.
Meanwhile, the primates today issued a new draft document outlining ways to hold the Anglican Communion together in the face of future difficulties.
The "covenant", which will take years to finalise, should provide Anglican leaders with powers to discipline, or even expel, member Churches that fail to toe the majority line. The draft covenant states that in "extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfill the substance of the covenant", they will have relinquished their membership.
"A process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches," according to the proposal.
However, the proposed covenant might not be strong enough for conservatives. The draft document is broadly written and open to varying interpretations, leaving open the possibility that a province that ordains gay bishops can remain a Communion member.
In a further development unlikely to please the conservatives, Bishop Schori was today elevated to represent the Americas on one of the Church's most influential executive bodies.
Bishop Schori, 53, was elected to the Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting, the executive body that guides the work of the primates.
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