African bishop optimistic on unity

Nairobi, Kenya - Nigeria's Anglican archbishop on Thursday said he was hopeful talks between the Catholic and Anglican churches would lead to unity, but said it would take a long time to mend a split more than five centuries ago.

Issues surrounding a possible reuniting of the Catholic and Anglican churches are contained in a document due for publication later this year.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola said dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church had been going on for more than 40 years, and that much progress had been made in terms of finding ways to work around the divisive issues.

"We separated over 500 years ago over fundamental issues that divided us. Now we are working on coming back together again. It will not take one day, it will take quite a number of years," he said.

Akinola said a meeting in Tanzania last week had given the U.S. Episcopal Church up until nine months to stop blessing same-sex unions.

The row over homosexuality has split the church between liberals and conservatives.

"In the spirit of Christian charity, we decided to give them another chance ... and find out if they would stop this practice by September this year. If they agree, there will be a new celebration," he told reporters.

But he said a refusal would indicate a threat to the unity of the Anglican church.

"It is a threat because, can two work together if they do no agree? If anyone chooses to ignore the basic elements of our relationship then they will have chosen to walk away," he said.

Akinola was speaking after a meeting of the 12-member Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa in Nairobi at a ceremony to launch a new five-year plan by the church to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.