The archbishop of Canterbury indicated Friday that the Episcopal Church isn’t on the brink of losing its place in the world Anglican fellowship, despite the uproar over Episcopal support for gay clergy.
Anglican leaders, called primates, had set a Sept. 30 deadline for the Americans to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for gay couples. Episcopal bishops have dedicated their meeting here to crafting a response.
But after two days of private talks with Episcopal leaders, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, said “there is no ultimatum involved.” The goal, he said, is “compromise.”
“It’s been presented sadly as a set of demands,” Williams said in a news conference before he left. “I don’t think that what was in the primates’ minds. In fact, I’m sure it isn’t.”
The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the United States and has a more liberal view of Scripture than most Anglicans overseas. Tensions over Bible interpretation erupted in 2003, when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Over the past four years, Anglican leaders have held emergency summits and private negotiations, trying to prevent differences over homosexuality from shattering the Anglican Communion.
Anglicans reiterated call in February
The most recent international conference was held in February in Tanzania, where Anglican leaders reiterated their call for the Americans to roll back their support for gays.
“This has consequences for the full participation of the church in the life of the communion,” the primates said, in the document they approved in Africa.
Williams acknowledged that “some primates would give a more robust interpretation of the demands, some less.” But the archbishop said the Sept. 30 date was chosen simply to coincide with the meeting this month of the Episcopal House of Bishops.
Williams will work with Anglican leaders and with members of the Anglican Consultative Council, an international lay-clergy panel, in evaluating whatever statement Episcopal bishops make before they end their gathering Tuesday.
Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, head of a network of conservative Episcopal dioceses that are considering splitting from the Episcopal Church, said that Williams is “de-emphasizing the ultimatum piece to try to get the best results” from American leaders.
“A great number of the primates see that deadline very much as a real deadline,” Duncan said, “just as many of us had.”