A senior Church of England bishop has criticized The Episcopal Church for not repenting of its pro-gay stance, which goes against traditional Anglican teachings.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, indicated Monday that he leaned to the side of conservative African bishops, who maintain that The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – has not fully dealt with the issue of same-sex blessings and the installation of the worldwide communion's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
There is now speculation that the bishop, regarded as one of the most-respected clergymen in Britain, may boycott the next year's Lambeth Conference.
The once-a-decade conference of Anglican bishops from around the world is being touted as a landmark event which could potentially determine the future of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.
In speaking with The Daily Telegraph, Nazir-Ali said: "My difficulty at the moment is not with a particular person, such as Gene Robinson, but with those who felt it right to approve and to officiate at his ordination.
"Unless they are willing to say that what they did was contrary to the Gospel, and we all of us from time to time need to repent about what we have done wrong, I would find it very difficult to be with them in a council of bishops."
The Rev. Tony Smith, a spokesperson for the Bishop of Rochester, confirmed that Nazir-Ali's statement to the Telegraph was the bishop's official stance.
The statement follows the dissatisfaction expressed by a number of leading conservative Anglican leaders toward last month's Episcopal House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans.
At that meeting – which was attended in part by the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams – Episcopal bishops said they would "exercise restraint" in approving partnered gays as bishops and authorizing public rites of the blessing of same-sex unions.
The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council, a high-ranking Anglican panel, subsequently said that those pledges had fulfilled the requests made by Anglican leaders for the Episcopal Church.
The panel added, however, that the U.S. arm of the communion must do more to support theological conservatives.
Despite the committee's conclusions, African Anglican leaders who met in Mauritius last week declared dissatisfaction with the assurances given by U.S. bishops.
In an official communiqué, the African Anglicans called for the 2008 Lambeth Conference to be postponed.
"The assurances made are without credibility and its preparation is severely compromised by numerous conflicts of interest," it stated.
"The report itself appears to be a determined effort to find a way for the full inclusion of the Episcopal Church with no attempt at discipline or change from their prior position."
Earlier this year, in a warning to the worldwide Communion, the second-most senior clergyman in the Church of England, Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu, said that any bishop who chooses to boycott the Lambeth Conference would, in effect, expel themselves from the communion.
He explained that such an action would break their links with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican church body.
In response, Nazir-Ali said: "It is nothing to do with loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
"In fact it may be an expression of loyalty to him to say that the Lambeth Conference has integrity."
The Archbishop of Canterbury has sent the Joint Standing Committee's advisory report to all the top Anglican leaders (called primates), the communion's regional leaders, and members of the Anglican Consultative Council – a representative body of bishops, priests and lay people. They are expected to respond by the end of the month.