Episcopal Bishops Keep Talks with Anglican Head Under Wraps

Episcopal bishops meeting in New Orleans this week for highly publicized closed-door talks with the Anglican Communion's spiritual leader remained tight-lipped on Thursday about the progress on key issues, including homosexuality.

At a news briefing held after nearly seven hours of meetings with Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams on Thursday, the Rt. Rev. Robert O'Neill, the bishop of Colorado, said the bishops had engaged in "a very open and forthright conversation."

He also expressed a continued commitment to the Anglican Communion.

"We're passionate about the work that we all do both individually and collectively. That passion was reflected in our conversation today," he said. "It reflected a passionate commitment to the vitality of life and ministry of both the Episcopal Church and to the global Anglican Communion."

The Rt. Rev. John Rabb, the bishop of Maryland, told reporters, "Our conversation has been rich in content, looking at all the issues that are before us."

They refused, however, to answer questions on the significance of the talks in respect to the communiqué issued in February, which called for a ban on the consecration of gay bishops and blessings for same-sex unions. The bishops also declined to speculate on the likelihood of an invitation to New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, to the 2008 Lambeth Conference – the decennial gathering of the world's top Anglican leaders.

Some are calling the private meetings the most significant since Robinson's consecration in 2003 drove a wedge into relations between provinces and member churches of the worldwide Anglican church body. While the worldwide Anglican Communion calls its members to minister pastorally to all, including homosexuals, the church body rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.

The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – is expected to come out of its Sept. 20-25 bishops meeting with a response to February's communiqué, days before the official Sept. 30 deadline. If The Episcopal Church does not make the unequivocal pledge that Anglican leaders have requested, it risks a reduced role and representation in the communion at the very least.

Anglican head Williams, who is struggling to hold the communion together, mentioned nothing of the rift over homosexuality in a 15-minute sermon he delivered in the New Orleans Convention Center on Thursday.

Instead, he encouraged congregants to re-build New Orleans into a God-fearing city following the massive devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Earlier on Thursday, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, urged bishops to demonstrate mutual respect during the meetings.

"We have lived in this Church and in this Communion for a number of years with abundant disdain, violent words, and destructive action toward those who hold positions at variance with our own. None of us is wholly free of blame in this game, for we have all sought to judge those who oppose us," she said during her homily.

While the semi-annual gathering of the Episcopal House of Bishops concludes next Tuesday, meetings with the Anglican head were due to conclude Friday morning.