Gay row forces split with North American Anglicans

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A schism in the Anglican Church was looming last night after the American and Canadian branches were asked to withdraw temporarily due to a dispute over homosexuality.

A schism in the Anglican Church was looming last night after the American and Canadian branches were asked to withdraw temporarily due to a dispute over homosexuality.

The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada were urged to voluntarily withdraw their members from a consultative council until the next Lambeth Conference.

The decision was the culmination of a week-long crisis meeting held by archbishops in Northern Ireland in an attempt to resolve the controversial debate surrounding homosexuality in the church.

It followed vociferous criticism from conservative evangelicals following the ordination of an openly gay bishop in America and the introduction of same-sex blessings in Canada.

The move is expected to divide the 78 million-strong Anglican Church after thousands of lesbian and gay Christians and their supporters threatened to leave if Canada and the US were forced out.

At the heart of the debate is the Windsor Report, drawn up by senior church representatives last October, which called for statements of regret over gay ordinations and same-sex blessings and a moratorium on such actions in future.

However, the liberal North American churches have not repented the ordination of a gay bishop or the introduction of same-sex blessings.

A communiqué of the primates' meeting in Armagh published last night read: "We request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.

"During that period we request that both churches respond to questions addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place with the Anglican Communion."

The progressive stance on homosexuality taken by the liberal churches of North Americas has incurred the opposition of conservative evangelicals and precipitated the split. This became apparent in 2003 when the US Episcopal Church endorsed the election of Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as Bishop of New Hampshire.

Traditionalists were also angered when New Westminster in Vancouver, Canada, became the first province in the communion to introduce a service of blessing for same-sex couples.

Primates from the "Global South" churches of Africa and Asia, have led calls for the suspension and expulsion of the Church in North America.

However, there were reports last night that canon lawyers at the primates' meeting advised that there was no legal process to permit such an expulsion to take place. Instead, the Anglican Communion chose the option of urging the Episcopal Church of the US and the Anglican Church of Canada to "withdraw" temporarily.

The primates were at pains to stress that while they were debating the moral appropriateness of specific human behaviour, they continued unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral care and support of homosexuals. "We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship," they said.

A Church of England spokesman said the decision would duly be examined in the aftermath of the primates' meeting.

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