Anglican Church leaders give liberals ultimatum

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania - The liberal American branch of Anglicanism was last night given seven months to prove that it has fully reversed its pro-gay agenda or face expulsion.

In a strongly-worded unanimous communiqué, only agreed at the eleventh hour, the Anglican primates called on the Episcopal Church to state unequivocally that it will not consecrate more gay bishops or authorise same-sex blessings.

After a five-day meeting in Tanzania, the primates said that the Episcopal Church's bishops had until the end of September to make their response.

If they failed to meet these demands it would have "consequences" for their "full participation" in the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said at a press conference later that these could include not inviting the American bishops to next year's Lambeth Conference, a clear sign of schism.

Conservative primates, who were responsible for strengthening the language of the final statement, were predicting last night that the Episcopal Church would struggle to accept the conditions as it would face fierce opposition from gay rights activists within its ranks.

Archbishop Peter Akinola, the conservative Primate of Nigeria, held out until the last minute, but was finally persuaded to sign it.

The communiqué also set up a new structure for conservative Americans who have rejected their liberal Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

A pastoral council, whose members will include both conservatives and liberals, will be established to oversee the new enclave, which will be widely seen as a form of "parallel" Church. It will be able to choose a "primatial vicar" from within its ranks, with the consent of Bishop Schori, who will act like a Presiding Bishop for the conservatives and who will be directly responsible to the council.

The communiqué also called for the cessation of property disputes between the Episcopal Church's liberal leadership and conservative parishes and for an end to African primates intervening in the American Church.

The communiqué will be welcomed by liberals who had feared that the meeting would expel or discipline the American Church, even though it may only postpone the moment when that occurs.

Conservatives may regard it as too lenient on the Episcopal Church, but the primates believe that the problem is now firmly back in the liberal American court.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has bought some more valuable time and avoided a schism, but whether the gap between the warring factions can ever be fully bridged remains very much in doubt.

A group of conservative primates had prepared a minority statement separating them from the rest that they threatened to issue if they had not won significant concessions in the communique, mainly in the strength of the language.

One of the leading conservatives, the Primate of the Southern Cone in South America, Archbishop Gregory Venables, said after the meeting:

"We came very close to separation over this.

"But Biblical doctrine and behaviour have been affirmed as the norms in the Anglican Church."

The communiqué reaffirmed that the official policy of the worldwide Church remained the traditional teaching that sex should be confined to heterosexual marriage.

It said that the primates remained unable to recognize that the Episcopal Church had "mended its broken relationships."

It added that there was an "urgent need" for the Episcopal Church to reassure those who had lost trust in it that it was prepared to agree to official Anglican policy on homosexuality.

It concluded: "We do not underestimate the difficulties and heart-searching that our proposals will cause, but we believe that commitment to the ways forward which we propose can bring healing and reconciliation across the Communion."

Dr Williams said at the press conference that the new enclave for conservative Americans was "an experiment", but the communique makes clear that it could be applied to other parts of the Church that suffer similar tensions, even the Church of England.

He said it represented a challenge to the Episcopal Church to "clarify its position" within a certain time frame.

He said that it would be "difficult" to accept a response from the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops that was not in the language of the communique.