Church faces gay 'crisis'

Sydney, Australia - POWERBROKERS in Sydney's Anglican diocese want to change the church's constitution to enable a split from the Church of England in England if its attitude to the ordination of gay clergy and same-sex unions remains unresolved.

A motion to be considered by the diocese's annual synod next Monday says recent developments within the English church relating to same-sex relationships "may make it desirable" to modify the Australian church's constitution to make the traditional link optional.

Section six of the constitution says unity depends on the Australian church being satisfied that its English counterpart is complying with biblical teaching.

Sydney's Archbishop Peter Jensen's view that the Bible forbids same-sex unions is well known, but this motion is the first step towards a split.

It will be put by Sydney solicitor and leading Anglican layman, Robert Tong. "There is little doubt that the Anglican communion faces a crisis," he said. "Instead of an automatic linking with the Church of England in England, it will be a matter of giving the Australian church a choice."

The motion requests the synod's standing committee considers how to re-frame section 6 of the Australian church's constitution and report to next year's meeting. The earliest the Australia-wide general synod could consider the matter would be at its next meeting in 2007.

The church in Nigeria, which has the most adherents after the English church, recently amended its constitution to remove mention of ties to the Church of England over the issue. And at the end of last month, its archbishop, Peter Akinola, announced gays and lesbians would be excommunicated from the church.

Mr Tong is one of two Australians appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to a 13-member panel of reference set up in May to handle disputes over authority within the worldwide Anglican church.

The panel, headed by the former Anglican primate of Australia, Peter Carnley, met for the first time in mid-July in the UK and is scheduled to meet again in May, but it has not yet been allocated any matters.

The issues which highlighted these difficulties included the 2003 election of a gay man, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire, in the US, and the 2002 decision by the New Westminster diocese in Canada to bless same-sex unions.

As a result, the Americans and Canadians were asked to withdraw from the communion's standing body, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the situation remains unresolved.

There was more controversy earlier this year when the English bishops ruled that gay and lesbian clergy could register their relationships under new UK civil laws - giving them many of the tax and inheritance advantages of married couples - without losing their licences to be priests.