The spiritual leader of the global Anglican Communion recently expressed fear that there may be further divisions in the already fragile church body.
"I feel that we may yet have to face the possibility of deeper divisions," Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams told The Hindu newspaper in an interview, released Wednesday.
The comment was made after he pointed out the complications posed by the recent ordination of a partnered lesbian in Los Angeles.
Though Anglican leaders were making progress in dialogue over the past couple of years, he said, "The decision of the American Church to go forward, as it has, with the ordination of a lesbian bishop has, I think, set us back."
"At the moment I'm not certain how we will approach the next primates' meeting, but regrettably some of the progress that I believe we had made has not remained steady," he told the Indian publication.
In May, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles consecrated the Rev. Mary Glasspool despite calls by the wider Anglican Communion to practice "gracious restraint" on the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
Glasspool, who has been in a relationship with her lesbian partner since 1988, was the second openly homosexual bishop to be ordained by The Episcopal Church. The first was V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003 whose consecration widened rifts in the Communion.
Some disciplinary action was taken against the U.S. body for not adhering to the moratorium on ordaining bishops living in same-sex relationships. Episcopal Church leaders were suspended from participating in ecumenical dialogues and stripped of any decision-making powers on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order – a body that examines issues of doctrine and authority.
Seven years into his leadership role as Archbishop of Canterbury, Williams has managed to keep the 77 million-member body from splitting. He acknowledged that the Communion has not fractured beyond repair.
Despite the challenges, Williams believes cooperation among Anglican leaders has grown stronger.
"While the institutions of the Communion struggle, in many ways the mutual life of the Communion, the life of exchange and cooperation between different parts of our Anglican family, is quite strong and perhaps getting stronger," he said. "It's a paradox.
“We are working more closely together on issues of development than we did before. We have the emergence of an Anglican health network across the globe, bringing together various health care institutions. We have also had quite a successful program on the standards and criteria for theological education across the Communion. So, a very mixed picture.”
The next primates (leaders of national churches) meeting of the Anglican Communion is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2011. Bishops are expected to discuss a way forward and possibly consider the idea of a multi-tier organization. Williams proposed a two-tier system in 2006 as a way of preserving the unity of the body. He told The Hindu that he does not like the idea but feels it is preferable to "complete chaos and fragmentation."
"It's about agreeing what we could do together," he said.
Williams is currently on a 16-day visit to India for the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Church of North India. In addition to meeting Christian leaders, he is also visiting with leaders of other religious communities.