Overseas bishop intervenes as threat of global schism grows

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The Independent Online

The threat of a global schism in the Anglican Church grew yesterday as the Archbishop of the West Indies warned that division could not be avoided in the row over the appoint-ment of a gay priest as the Bishop of Reading.

Archbishop Drexel Gomez said he objected to Dr Jeffrey John's teaching on homosexuality, adding that it was difficult to see how the church could avoid "some sort of division". The intervention by an overseas cleric heightened tensions between the Church of England's liberal wing, which supports Dr John, and the evangelical and conservative opponents who object to his appointment.

The media frenzy surrounding the new bishop intensified last night after it was reported that Dr John and his clergyman partner had recently bought a flat together. The Canon said last week that they were not living together. Dr John and partner bought the £235,000 flat in Roehampton, west London last year, the Sunday Telegraph claimed.

The present crisis began when theAnglican bishops - of Hereford, Leicester, Newcastle, Ripon & Leeds, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, Salisbury, Truro and Worcester - wrote an open letter to the head of the Church of England, voicing support for Dr John's appointment, which is backed by the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev Richard Harries. It countered a statement by a group from within the diocese, led by a lay minister, Philip Giddings, hinting they would break from the official Church, stripping it of large congregations and substantial revenue if the appointment went ahead.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, remained silent on the issue. Lambeth Palace indicated the Archbishop's mailbag had been overwhelmingly supportive of Dr John's appointment, though it had also contained some homophobic hate mail. Dr Williams is understood privately to believe the Church should alter its position on homosexuality.

One of the eight bishops who have written to Dr Williams, Timothy Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, yesterday said it was time to discuss the matter privately at length. "We all now need to get back to the serious discussion in which we try to discern God's will for us ... This will be best done out of the glare of the media," he said.

But as churchgoers up and down the country listen to sermons today, few will hear their priest openly endorse that need for change.

The Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement said the clergy "don't tend to be very bold and courageous people". Its general secretary, Richard Kirker, said there were "far more" priests than had declared themselves publicly who were not satisfied with the position.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister felt it was a "matter for the Church". But the Christian Socialist Movement, of which Tony Blair, several Cabinet ministers and Labour MPs are members, backs Dr John's appointment. A spokesman for the group said: "It is making the Church look ridiculous. "

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