U.S. pro-gay bishop attends Anglican meeting

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania - The Anglican Church's spiritual leader on Wednesday defended the presence of a pro-gay U.S. bishop at a summit to prevent schism over homosexuality, despite pressure from conservatives to have her banned.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who admits he fears losing control over the row dividing the world's 77 million Anglicans, has insisted Katharine Jefferts Schori meet her critics face to face.

But he also appeased traditionalists, who have threatened to refuse to sit at the same table as the Episcopalians' first female leader, by inviting conservative U.S. church leaders to the private meeting that opened in Tanzania on Wednesday.

"Her presence is absolute. There's no question about her presence -- that's actually what the archbishop said," Jim Rosenthal, director of communications of the Anglican Communion, told reporters.

"She's here because she's the elected primate of the American church and there's no expectation she's not going to be here for the rest of the time," he added.

Williams has been fighting for years to avert schism in the loose global union of 38 churches whose festering division over homosexual priests and same-sex marriages reached near revolt by the burgeoning Global South with the appointment of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.

The Tanzania meeting promises to be the most fractious meeting yet between the small but powerful liberal U.S. church and conservatives in developing countries, where archbishops have wielded more power since the Anglican Communion's center of gravity shifted south.

The Global South group of African, Asian and Latin American countries may this week recommend to Williams that the U.S. church appoint a moderator to rival Jefferts Schori.

The issue may come up for discussion when three American bishops -- a hard-line conservative, a moderate conservative and a liberal -- meet the Anglican primates on Thursday to express their different views on topics including sexuality.

In a sign of the malaise within the Anglican Communion, at least 45 parishes have left the Episcopal Church, where congregations are dwindling, and aligned themselves with African dioceses.

Most archbishops in Africa, home to more than half the world's Anglicans, denounce homosexuality as sinful and regard the ordination of gay clergy as a violation of centuries old Anglican teaching.

They have called on the U.S. church to repent its ways and some may skip communion with Jefferts Schori at a special Eucharist in Zanzibar on Sunday.

Liberals argue the Anglican Church in its 450 years of history has traditionally embraced diverse views.