THE prospect of schism in the Church of England drew closer yesterday.The issue is over the ordination of homosexual bishops in the United States and the prospect of same-sex relationships between clergy under the British government's new civil partnerships legislation. The General Synod (parliament) of the Church of England began its meeting in London on Wednesday and heard the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, appeal for reconciliation in prayer and the avoidance of “poisoning the wells by doing our business with suspicion and hostility or lack of respect”. What Dr Williams apparently did not know was that as he spoke a letter had been delivered to his office from 17 of the 38 Archbishops of the Anglican worldwide communion criticising his position on “unrepented sexual immorality”. The letter, whose signatories are mainly but not exclusively in the developing world, is unprecedented in the directness of its criticsm of Dr Williams. Claiming that there is a consensus in the Church against gay clergy it says: “We wonder whether your personal dissent from this consensus prevents you from taking steps to confront those churches that have embraced teaching contrary to the overwhelming testimony of the Anglican communion. We urge you to rethink your personal view and embrace the church's consensus. And to act on it as it is the clear witness of scripture.” It is widely accepted that the Archibishop of Canterbury cannot order any part of the Anglican church to act or refrain from acting in a particular way. On the other hand, there is clearly a strong feeling among the more traditional parts of the church that Dr Williams has chosen not to speak out clearly enough against homosexual clergy and they see this libertinism, as they call it, as “the essence of the severing of the grace of Christ from His moral commandments”. A typically vague response from Dr Williams' office said: “If this letter is a contribution to the debate, then it is welcome, however robust. But if it is an attempt to foreclose the debate, it would seem to serve very little purpose indeed.”


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