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By Ruth Gledhill
Religion Correspondent


The ordination of openly gay bishops in the Anglican Church is to be outlawed under controversial new proposals to be published next week to save the Church from schism.

Anglican provinces are to be told they must sign an unbreakable unity agreement which would prevent dioceses and provinces from ever ordaining gay bishops such as Gene Robinson in the US again.
A new "star chamber" will be set up to adjudicate when provinces are accused of breaking the agreement.

If deemed to have done so, they will in effect be suspended from membership of the Anglican Communion until they come back into line.

In some cases this will mean little more than the withdrawal of invitations to meetings such as the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference and the annual meetings of the primates. But in extreme cases, rebel churches could be denied the right to claim they are "in communion" with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

The recommendations will be published on Monday in the Windsor Report, the 126-page document of the Lambeth Commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to resolve the crisis over gays. They will be discussed by the primates next February.

Each of the 38 Anglican provinces worldwide will be asked to adopt the covenant in a last-ditch attempt to save the Church from schism.

The covenant, similar to a clause in the 1998 UK Human Rights Act, will state: "No ecclesiastical authority shall act in a manner inconsistent with the terms of communion, the bonds of unity, shared by the churches of the Anglican Communion."

The long-awaited Windsor Report, to be launched at St Paul's Cathedral in London, has been drawn up to deal with a series of unprecedented crises over homosexuality in the Church. It is the work of a commission chaired by Dr Robin Eames, Primate of Ireland.

The 17 members of the commission, from provinces around the world and from across the evangelical, liberal and catholic wings of the Church, were asked to examine the nature of communion and to find a way of maintaining church unity.

The commission was advised by Norman Doe, professor of canon law at Cardiff, and many of its conclusions are based on a paper he presented. Evangelicals from England, the US and the "Global South" churches across Africa, Asia and Latin America had demanded the suspension or expulsion of the US Anglican church for permitting the ordination of the Right Rev Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.

They also wanted the New Westminster diocese of Canada to be disciplined for authorising same-sex blessing rites.

Under the proposals, these churches will not be suspended but will effectively suspend themselves if they are unable to sign up to the new covenant.

The report will also affect the church in Australia, where the diocese of Sydney is next week expected to vote through "lay celebration", permitting the celebration of Holy Communion by non-ordained lay people. Although not as outwardly sensational as the ordination of practising homosexuals, lay celebration is in "ecclesiological" terms an even more radical development.

The Windsor Report is also expected to propose a system of "alternative episcopal oversight" for those conservative evangelical parishes in the US and Canada unable to accept the ordination of Bishop Robinson or same-sex blessings.

The US church will only be disciplined if it refuses to allow parishes to opt for alternative oversight and take their property with them. The "star chamber" will be set up to decide whether a province has breached the covenant. Each province will also have its own committee to make sure it does not breach the bonds of unity.

Initial proposals envisaged the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, as being the final authority in deciding whether the covenant had been breached. But he is understood to have resisted such a role and to have fought any development towards a papal structure for the Anglican Church.

However, Dr Williams could still be appointed to chair the eventual star chamber.

One evangelical insider said: "This could save the communion but it is a high risk strategy because any province could in effect put itself out of communion with the rest, even the Church of England."

Liberals warned that provinces would be unwilling to surrender even a part of their traditional autonomy.

The Rev Martin Reynolds, spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: "There will be many churches that will not be comfortable with this. If this is the only thing that will hold the Anglican Communion together, the result will be a body that is not what we now understand to be the Anglican Communion. It will be a new church." The covenant will be the fifth "instrument of unity" in the Anglican Communion.

The first four are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference of all Anglican bishops, the Anglican Consultative Council which brings together bishops, priests and laity and the annual meetings of the Primates, the bishops and archbishops at the head of each province.

It could be several years before it is agreed as it will have first to be authorised by the synods of all 38 provinces in the worldwide church.

David Virtue, who has become a spokesman for the conservative evangelical movement through his website Virtuosity, welcomed the proposals. He said: "This confirms the truth that there is a still a biblical standard that must be maintained on all matters of faith and morals, and that even a wealthy, though numerically poor church like the US Episcopal Church must abide by a common body of truth or find itself excommunicated."


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