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Anglican gay row continues as gay priest rejects bishop post

July 8, 2003

Archbishop of Canterburg, Rowan Williams LONDON - The Anglican church was Monday struggling to repair a rift between its conservative and liberal wings on the issue of homosexuality after the nomination of an openly gay clergyman in Britain as a bishop.

The conservatives appeared to have gained the upper hand after Jeffrey John on Sunday withdrew his acceptance of the post of Bishop of Reading, west of London.

The clergyman, who has had a male partner for 27 years, but says it is now a celibate relationship, said he had made his decision "in view of the damage my consecration might cause to the unity of the church."

British newspapers suggested that he was forced into his move after pressure from the staff of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the church's spiritual leader, who feared John's appointment could spark a devastating split in the church and its 70 million adherents worldwide.

Conservative Anglicans across the world fear in particular that the liberal wing of the church is moving secretly to promote gay marriages.

Senior British clerics lobbied the archbishop, Rowan Williams, over John's appointment, warning of a break-up of the church. They were supported by clergy from overseas.

"Dr John's decision to withdraw has averted a major crisis in the Church of England, (and) though the challenge facing the Church of England is lessened ... the crisis for the worldwide Anglican Church continues," said Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia.

He said the church must now turn its attention to the Canadian diocese of New Westminster, which has blessed same-sex marriages, and the Episcopal church in the United States, where an openly gay priest was recently elected as bishop in New Hampshire.

In Africa, many bishops have denounced homosexuality as an abomination. Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, where he leads some 17 million Christians, has already broken links with the New Westminster diocese in Canada.

Despite withdrawing from his appointment as a bishop, John, who is based at London's Southwark Cathedral, still has several powerful allies in his corner representing the more liberal wing of the Anglican establishment.

The Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee, said John's refusal to accept the post of bishop was a "catastrophe" for the church.

Slee told BBC radio the affair has stained the church with prejudice and "seriously undermined" the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"The people talk about empty churches. Empty churches may well be empty because of the image that we are presenting of narrowness and bigotry and prejudice," Slee said.

"This is not a bad message simply for gay people. This is a bad message for many heterosexual and open-minded and intelligent Christians who approach the Bible with a lot of thoughtfulness and will feel that that ability is not there for them."

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, disclosed Sunday he appointed several gay bishops during his tenure of office between 1991 and 2002, though he said he did so after they privately assured him that they were celibate.

Gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who stormed Carey's pulpit in 1998 to condemn the church's stance on homosexuality, said John's withdrawal had been decreed by "ecclesiastical bigots." "The Archbishop of Canterbury has capitulated to the forces of homophobia within the church," Tatchell added.

Williams said Sunday that the church was facing a time of "open and painful confrontation" in which bonds of mutual trust had been "severely strained".

It also showed that the level of "foolish and hurtful prejudice in our society is still uncomfortably high".


Related story
Oz bishop says gay UK priest decision averts church crisis [08/07/03]


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