US church snubs call to halt promotion of homosexual priests

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The Independent Online

The leaders of the Anglican Communion in the United States who controversially appointed a gay bishop last year have given a defiant response to a call to halt the promotion of homosexual priests.

The leaders of the Anglican Communion in the United States who controversially appointed a gay bishop last year have given a defiant response to a call to halt the promotion of homosexual priests.

Frank Griswold, the presiding Bishop and Primate of the US Episcopal Church, said his church was seeking to live the gospel "in a society where homosexuality is openly discussed and increasingly acknowledged".

Yesterday Anglican leaders in London demanded an apology from the US Episcopal Church for the consequences of appointing Canon Gene Robinson, which they had said caused "deep offence" in the Anglican community.

Fifty American bishops attended the consecration of Canon Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire last year, causing outrage among the traditional sections of the church. In an open letter yesterday, Bishop Griswold, speaking on behalf of his US congregation, said: "We regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our Communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans."

He added: "Other provinces are also blessed by the lives and ministry of homosexual persons. I regret there are places within our communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out of the truth of who they are."

The Lambeth Commission, established by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, last year after the appointment of Gene Robinson, urged both conservatives and liberals to use their faith to find agreement over the issue of gays within the church. If they failed, warned the Commission, the Anglican Communion, which represents a congregation of 76 million people worldwide, would fracture into a collection of disparate churches.

Many conservative clergy believe the Bible explicitly condemns homosexuality and African church leaders have also argued it is a strong cultural taboo in many areas on the continent. Yesterday, the leaders of the Anglican Communion were deliberately critical of the American and Canadian churches for promoting gay priests and conducting gay marriages without a proper consensus from the rest of the communion.

The report, presented at a press conference at St Paul's Cathedral, also invited the US Episcopal Church to call a moratorium on promoting any other person living in a same-gender union to the bishopric "until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges".

It demanded an explanation from the Episcopal Church in the US as to "how a person living in a same-gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ". It asked that this explanation be backed up by passages from the scriptures.

But the 17 Anglican Primates also criticised the "demonising of homosexuality". "Any demonising of homosexual persons or their ill-treatment is totally against Christian charity," said the report.

In an attempt to find a way through what many Anglicans believe is a theological impasse, the Commission's leader, Robin Eames, the Primate of Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, called for the beginning of a process of reconciliation.

Failure to do so could lead to an irrevocable split in the church, according to the study carried out by the Lambeth Commission. It warned: "There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart."

Bishop Griswold said that while he noted the emphasis should be on future conciliation, this did not mean the process should end in one point of view.

A spokesman for Gene Robinson said that the bishop would not comment until he and an executive committee of the Diocese of New Hampshire had a chance to read the full report.

But on Saturday, a coalition of conservative US Episcopalians affirmed that it had split from the national church and formed four new congregations, partly because of last year's consecration of the gay bishop. They plan to align themselves with a foreign bishop and meet in private homes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.