Anglicans: N. American Church Too Liberal

Cairo, Egypt - Conservative Anglican clerics from Africa, Asia and Latin America accused North American priests Monday of not doing enough to stop supporting same-sex marriages and gay priests, which threatens to split the church.

Some 120 priests and followers from the so-called Global South also pressed for an ''Anglican Covenant'' to provide clearer rules to govern the church, which was founded in the 16th century by England's King Henry VIII and spread around the world by the British Empire.

The increasingly powerful conservative bloc, representing a majority of the Anglican communion's 77 million followers worldwide, criticized liberal priests in the U.S. and Canada for causing a crisis by supporting the consecration of gay priests and allowing blessings for the union of same-sex couples.

The Global South criticized the Anglican Church in Canada and the U.S. Episcopal Church, as Anglican communion members are called in America, for showing no sign of being ''willing to turn back from their innovations,'' according to a document released by the conference Monday.

So contentious was the topic of gay priests and same-sex unions that the leader of the Anglican communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, traveled to Egypt to speak during the conference and call for unity within the church and to calm dissent led by powerful Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola.

The divisions between conservative and liberal Anglicans reached crisis point in 2003 over a gay bishop's consecration in New Hampshire by the U.S. church. Conservative Anglicans are also outraged by toleration of same-sex blessing ceremonies.

Liberal North American priests have shown ''no evidence'' of abiding by ''generally accepted teachings'' concerning same-sex marriages and gay clerics, a move that ''will result in their 'walking apart,''' or breaking off from the church, according to the Global South document.

''Our own Anglican Communion sadly continues to be weakened by unchecked revisionist teaching and practices which undermine the divine authority of the Holy Scripture,'' the statement said. ''The Global South calls for the errant provinces to be disciplined.''

Conference host Bishop Anis Mouneer, head of the Anglican church in Egypt, said the Global South does not want to split the church but, instead, persuade liberal priests in North America to ''not act unilaterally.''

''There is a crisis in the church and the crisis is continuing and ... the (Anglican) communion is right now wounded by the decisions of the church in America,'' Mouneer said.

The U.S. church will hold its general convention in June, at which American priests are expected to state their position on the issue of gay clerics and same-sex unions.

The American position will be taken up by a more important conference of the international communion scheduled for 2008. If conservatives are dissatisfied, it could set the scene for a schism in the church, Mouneer said.

In a move aimed at taking back control of church practice and codifying its principals, the Global South backed the drawing up of an ''Anglican Covenant'' to provide ''a biblical foundation for our life, ministry and mission as a communion.'' For centuries, the Anglican Communion was built around shared traditions and liturgy.

Rev. William Petersen, dean of Bexley Hall, the Episcopal Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, said if the covenant was ever instituted, it could put the liberal diocese into the position of either following the new doctrine or being forced aside.

''The (conservatives) are seeking a more binding type of communion, one that is more doctrinal,'' Petersen told The Associated Press.

Mouneer, the Egyptian bishop, said he supported the covenant, which he believed would prevent crises such as the gay priests issue from recurring.

''The Americans think the consecration of a gay priest is a local issue and related to culture of America, but it affects the rest of the world,'' he said. ''In a Coptic Orthodox and Islamic context, such a thing is seen as very immoral and the Anglican communion in Egypt, therefore, is being seen as very immoral, even though we oppose the idea.''

The Global South also praised a plan to allow conservative U.S. dioceses join the newly formed Council of Anglican Provinces of the Americas and the Caribbean, a move that could further isolate the liberal Anglican camp in North America.

The six-day conference also urged the church to play a stronger role in helping battle the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Third World and foster development projects.