The spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans raised questions Monday about the legitimacy of plans to create a global network of conservative Anglicans that would challenge his authority and the teachings of liberal North American churches.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the proposal to form a separate global council of conservative bishops who will train priests and interpret Scripture would create more problems than it solves.
A council "which consists of only a self-selected group ... will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the communion," he said.
The plan emerged from a weeklong meeting in Jerusalem of conservative Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people from Africa and some north American and British churches. In a declaration Sunday, they announced plans for the fellowship as a "church within a church," stopping short of a complete break with the communion.
Charges of 'false gospel' for U.S. churches
Conference participants expressed outrage at what they consider a "false gospel" that has led churches in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere to accept gay relationships. Long-standing divisions over how Anglicans should interpret the Bible erupted in 2003 when the U.S. Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the U.S., consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
On Monday, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, said that "much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission" from the Jerusalem conference.
"Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable," she said. "This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers."
In recent years, overseas conservatives have taken leadership of the more than 60 Episcopal parishes that have split from the denomination. The Episcopal Church includes more than 7,000 parishes.
As part of their new fellowship, the conservatives said they would continue to take in breakaway churches.
Church as referee
Williams warned that the conservatives' plans to intervene when congregations or priests around the world complain about the teachings of their local bishops would lead to the church being used to settle personal scores.
In their official statement from the conference, the conservative groups said they "do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the archbishop of Canterbury." They also called the current setup for the communion, with the archbishop of Canterbury at its center, "a colonial structure."
The Anglican Communion is a 77 million-member family of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England. It is the third-largest grouping of churches in the world, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and has always held together different views.
The Jerusalem meeting was held just ahead of a once-a-decade gathering of all Anglican bishops, called the Lambeth Conference. Some of the more than 200 bishops in Jerusalem plan to boycott Lambeth, which begins July 16 in England.