Anglican Prelates Snub Head of U.S. Church Over Gay Issues

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania - Seven archbishops who say they represent more than 30 million Anglicans worldwide refused to take Communion here on Friday with the new head of the American Episcopal Church, to protest her support of gay clergy members and blessings for same-sex unions.

Their action demonstrated the deep gulf between conservative and liberal wings of the Anglican Communion, the world’s third largest Christian denomination, with 77 million members. Conflict over the American branch’s acceptance of an openly gay bishop and same-sex unions has dominated a high-level Anglican meeting here.

A statement posted on the Web site of Nigeria’s Anglican Church said seven archbishops, five of whom represent African countries, felt that it would be a violation of Scripture to celebrate the Eucharist with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was elected in June as head of the 2.3 million Episcopalians in the United States. The statement quoted a passage from the Book of Common Prayer calling for sinners to repent.

Their protest undercut efforts by other church leaders striving to present the church as united. But it is not unprecedented. At the last such meeting, in Northern Ireland two years ago, at least a dozen Anglican leaders refused to celebrate the Eucharist with Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, Bishop Jefferts Schori’s predecessor, for the same reason.

“This is an expression of what has been going on,” Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Australia said at a news briefing here. “Some people believe that relations have been fractured or broken with the Episcopal Church.”

A spokesman for Bishop Jefferts Schori said she was abiding by the church’s request not to speak to reporters until the meeting ended Monday.

The Anglican Church has steadily pressed the Episcopal Church to modify its stance on homosexuality since the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a gay priest living with his partner, was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 .

The American church agreed in June to refrain from consecrating more openly gay bishops. But it has made no such move to discourage church blessings of same-sex unions, prompting renewed criticism here.

A draft covenant presented at the conclave on Friday could step up the pressure. Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, who was chairman of the drafting committee, said Friday that once approved, the covenant would provide a way to hold wayward churches in check.

He estimated that 9 of the 38 Anglican provinces worldwide had broken relations with the Episcopal Church because of its stance on homosexuality, including those who refused to take Communion with Bishop Jefferts Schori. Another half dozen, including his own church, have declared that relations were “impaired,” while a dozen or so more have taken no public stance, he said.

By Friday, conservative Anglicans said they were starting to despair that the meeting here would produce neither of their goals: a condemnation and marginalizing of the Episcopal Church, or a new church structure for American conservatives who want to leave the Episcopal Church but remain within the Anglican Communion.

“Conservatives are very disappointed,” said Timothy Shah, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in Washington. “They have the feeling that the policy of the archbishop of Canterbury and the leadership of the Episcopal Church is one of indefinite delay in the hopes that aging conservative primates will retire and eventually be replaced by people who are more open to a negotiated settlement.”

Liberal Episcopalians, on the other hand, were encouraged that the number of primates — the term for the leaders of Anglican provinces — who refused to take Communion at this meeting was only seven, about half the number who refused two years ago.