Australian for church gay panel

Sydney, Australia - The international Anglican panel to deal with disputes over homosexuality that have racked the church will include a powerful Australian conservative.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, will today name Robert Tong, chairman of the influential evangelical lobby group Anglican Church League, on the 13-member panel, to be chaired by former Australian Anglican leader Peter Carnley.

Mr Tong, a Sydney solicitor and close friend of Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen, took a combative stance yesterday, saying that although Dr Carnley had given interviews suggesting how the panel would operate, the panel itself would decide that when it met.

He agreed that his appointment was a significant concession by Dr Williams to evangelicals, who oppose gay priests and gay marriage.

Mr Tong is a member of the national canon law commission, a member of Sydney's standing committee, chairman of the Sydney church's property trust and secretary of its theological college committee.

The church faced schism last year after the United States church appointed an openly gay bishop and the Canadian church began blessing same-sex unions, prompting conservative African, Asian and South American churches to threaten to withdraw from the worldwide body.

Dr Williams bought the church more time through the Windsor report, published in October, and the response of the primates (national leaders) to it in February. That response included setting up this panel to protect parishes in dispute with their bishops or bishops in dispute with their national authority - mostly conservatives under the oversight of liberals.

It will deal only with matters referred by Dr Williams, who is believed to have received up to 70 complaints already.

Mr Tong said he was surprised to be invited. "I've no idea how my name dribbled to the top."

Mr Tong agreed that his appointment was a significant concession to evangelicals."

He said the panel should be as transparent as possible, including majority and minority reports, which would be unusual for Anglicans.

A spokeswoman for Dr Carnley, who resigned as Australian primate and archbishop of Perth two weeks ago, said that he had not yet been told who was on the panel and could not comment.

Dr Williams has taken care to include conservatives, liberals and theologians regarded as middle of the road. The panel has four bishops and two women.

Besides the two Australians there are representatives from Africa, Asia, South America and England. There is one North American, Claude Payne, the former bishop of Texas.