(Photo: Episcopal News Service / Matthew Davies)
Nobody would deny that there is division and "a critical situation" in the Anglican Communion, the spiritual leader of the global body said Sunday.
"Clearly the division is very real. Nobody is denying that. The question is how we cope with it, how we argue with one another," the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, said at the conclusion of a biennial meeting in Dublin, Ireland.
Williams was joined by about two dozen Anglican primates – senior bishops or archbishops – for a nearly weeklong meeting. At least seven primates did not show up in protest of the presence of U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Recent developments in the U.S. Episcopal Church, including the ordination of a second openly gay bishop last year, have increased tensions in the already fragile Anglican Communion, which represents 77 million members around the world.
The absence of primates from the Dublin meeting was "felt and noted everyday," Williams said.
"We were not oblivious of the difficulty," he maintained, adding that attempts were made to craft the meeting as to not offend any of the leaders' consciences.
He insisted, though, that two-thirds of the primates were still present, meaning at least two-thirds of them wish to continue conversations.
"Of course there is a critical situation in the Communion; nobody would deny that," the Anglican spiritual leader stated. "But that critical situation has not ended the relationships – often very cordial and very constructive – between churches within the communion.
"So there's no suggestion that this is somehow closing the door on those who are not with us."
Ahead of the Jan. Jan. 25-30 meeting, archbishops from the Global South said it was "pointless" to attend. They cited the failure of the U.S. Episcopal Church to abide by previous agreements made during Primates Meetings – such as the moratorium on the ordination of noncelibate gays.
Despite the conflict, Williams pointed to the agreements that leaders present did make together during the meeting.
The primates drafted a document on the calling and responsibility of the Primates Meeting after intensive discussion on theology and ministry; they jointly formed three statements on the continuing crisis in Haiti, climate change, and the murder of gay Ugandan activist David Kato; and they wrote letters to address gender-based violence, the successful Sudan election, the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, and the instability in Egypt.
"There is solidarity between churches in the North Atlantic world, Africa, and Asia about a broad range of issues," Williams stressed. "That is not nothing."
They also agreed to build relationships with those who were not present.
On another note, the Archbishop of Canterbury said he believes some of the estimates of the number of parishes and individuals transferring to the Roman Catholic Church "are a bit exaggerated."
Pope Benedict XVI set up a structure allowing Anglicans unhappy with the ordination of women and noncelibate gays to enter full communion with the Catholic Church.
The Primates Meeting is not a decision-making body. Instead, primates gather every two to three years to consult on theological, social and international issues. The first meeting was held in 1978.