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LONDON: Church appoints tribunal to bring peace on gay row

Church appoints tribunal to bring peace on gay row

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

LONDON (6/9/2005)--THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, appointed an international tribunal of clergy, lay theologians and lawyers yesterday to help to bring peace to the Church's long-running dispute over homosexuality.

The panel, to be chaired by the retiring Primate of Australia, Dr Peter Carnley, includes the Bishop of Birmingham, Dr John Sentamu, a former judge in Uganda, and the Rev Stephen Trott, a canon lawyer and Church of England rector.

The aim is to get warring factions talking to each other directly rather than through the pages of the press and websites, and to offer them pastoral advice and mediation.

The dispute over gays has brought the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism. Conservative Anglicans want action against or repentance from the Anglican Church in the United States for ordaining the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and against Canada after the New Westminster Diocese authorised blessings of same-sex relationships.

Canada and the US have voluntarily withdrawn their representatives from the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Communion's executive body, in Nottingham later this month.

Even though its chairman is from the liberal wing of the Church, the new "panel of reference", proposed by the meeting of the Church's primates in Ireland this year, has been welcomed by conservatives and is being seen as an opportunity by them to gain protection in disputes with liberal bishops.

The panel is expected to meet for the first time in July, or soon afterwards, when it will consider the case of the evangelical Bishop of Recife, the Right Rev Robinson Cavalcanti, suspended over a dispute with the liberal Primate of Brazil for allegedly having "abandoned the communion of the Church".

The panel is modelled on a traditional pattern of Christian discipleship, with 12 members plus a chairman.

Bishop Cavalcanti, who has the support of 42 parishes in the diocese, compared with 14 who are loyal to the primate, declared his diocese "out of communion" with New Westminster and New Hampshire. He will learn in eight weeks whether he is to be formally deposed.

After the first meeting, most of the panel's work will be done electronically. It will have no actual power to intervene but will bring the expertise of its large number of canon lawyers to bear in helping the different factions communicate better, in the hope of averting schism. Besides cases such as that in Brazil, it will help to mediate between liberal bishops and conservative parishes who oppose them and want some form of alternative episcopal oversight.

Dr Chris Sugden, a director of Anglican Mainstream, the international body of orthodox Anglicans, said that the panel would help the Church to remain in one piece until the gay dispute was resolved at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly meeting of bishops and archbishops.

"It is an emergency protection," he said. "Many of our churches are bleeding. People are saying they cannot remain members of the churches in the US and Canada while this is going on. It includes at least two people who are openly sympathetic to the conservative position."

A further five members are also understood to be from the Church's evangelical wing, giving conservatives an overall majority. Dr Sugden said: "The acid test for the panel will be whether the protection it offers proves adequate for those who are being harassed, oppressed and forced to leave their jobs and their churches. Only time will tell whether the panel is able to pass this test.

"The recommendations of the panel will, we are sure, be a great help to the Archbishop of Canterbury in giving leadership to the Communion in repairing the tear in its fabric which led the primates to call for these extraordinary measures," Dr Sugden said.


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