Nigeria archbishop sees pro-gays leaving Anglicanism

Abuja, Nigeria - Nigeria's Anglicans have reorganised links with fellow churches to give pro-gay liberals a way out rather than to cause a split in the Church, its leader said on Thursday.

Archbishop Peter Akinola said his church's decision to remove references to the See of Canterbury -- the historic centre of Anglicanism -- from its constitution had been misunderstood in Western countries as the start of a schism.

"We are not breaking away from anybody," he told journalists in the Nigerian capital. "We shall continue to uphold the historic faith of the Church."

His statement was the latest in an increasingly acrimonious war of words between pro-gay rights liberals in the United States, Canada and Britain and traditionalists, mostly from developing nations, who say the Bible condemns homosexuality.

Each side accuses the other of splitting the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, which was founded around the Church of England and now has a majority in the Third World. And each side says it represents the true faith.

A Church of Nigeria synod officially revoked its links to Canterbury this month "so that those who are bent on creating a new religion in which anything goes, and have thereby chosen to walk a different path, may do so without us", Akinola said.

Another change allowed his church to extend its authority over conservative Anglicans in other countries, in order to preserve what he called the true Anglican faith from liberals "clearly determined to redefine what our common faith was once".

The revised constitution says the Nigerian church is in communion with all Anglican churches that uphold "the historic faith, doctrine, sacrament and discipline" of Anglicanism.

Gene Robinson, the gay bishop whose 2003 appointment in the Episcopal Church (U.S. Anglicans) sparked the worldwide row, said last week the Communion was heading for a schism.

Speculation about a split grew this month as Akinola took a leading role in preparing a meeting in late October in Egypt of conservative prelates from the developing world.

Akinola is the most vocal critic of Anglican reforms that have allowed a gay bishop in the United States, blessings for same-sex couples in Canada and approval for clergy to enter into civil unions in Britain.

"Some find the historic tenets of our common beliefs old-fashioned and unacceptable to their modern culture," he said. "They are introducing new religious practices unknown to Scripture and our history and are the ones tearing apart the very fabric of our Communion."