Anglicans at a Deadlock; Archbishop Pursues More Talks

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said it is "practically impossible" to expect a clearer response from the American church which had earlier agreed to halt the ordination of openly gay bishops.

In a lengthy Advent letter addressed to the global Anglican Communion, Williams - Anglican spiritual head - delivered a long-awaited response to the current crisis dividing the 77 million-member body. The letter was released Friday.

"It is practically impossible to imagine any further elucidation or elaboration coming from TEC (The Episcopal Church) after the successive statements and resolutions from last year's General Convention onwards," Williams wrote.

In September, The Episcopal Church - U.S. branch of Anglicanism - said it would "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." It further pledged not to authorize public rites of the blessing of same-sex unions. At the same time, Episcopal bishops called for "unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons."

The Episcopal Church had caused uproar in the global body when it consecrated openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003.

Conservative Anglicans have demanded a clear response from the American branch on whether it would repent and get back in line with traditional Anglicanism or continue on its own path, apart from the rest of the Communion. They concluded from the September resolution that they saw no change in The Episcopal Church's liberal direction on theology and Scripture.

Across the global Communion, primates - highest leaders of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces - came to no consensus about whether the American branch provided an adequate response. Slightly more than half of the leaders were willing to accept The Episcopal Church's pledges while the rest regarded the response "inadequate."

Williams noted in his letter that it is "extremely unlikely" that a more substantial consensus will come out.

The archbishop faulted both the American branch and conservative Anglican leaders overseas, saying both sides have violated the Communion's boundaries.

He criticized The Episcopal Church for departing from the Communion's common reading of Scripture by ordaining an openly gay bishop and blessing same-sex unions "in the name of the Church."

Williams also criticized conservative leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America for intervening by taking American parishes under their wings and ordaining conservative Americans as bishops. Such interventions create "rivalry and confusion," he said.

Both liberal and conservative Anglicans were troubled by the archbishop's letter.

The Chicago Consultation - a group of liberal bishops, priests and laypeople - said the letter "contains not a word of comfort to gay and lesbian Christians," noting the archbishop's unwillingness to include homosexuals in leadership.

The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, a conservative strategist, was comforted by the archbishop's emphasis on the authority of Scripture but troubled by what appeared to be an "equivalency" between the errors of The Episcopal Church and the conservatives, according to The New York Times.

Harmon said the archbishop had consistently failed to discipline the American church and that the letter provided "truth, but no consequences," as reported by The New York Times.

Some conservative leaders have threatened to boycott next summer's Lambeth conference, a global meeting that occurs once a decade. But Williams said the refusal to meet can be "a refusal of the cross - and so of the resurrection" and called for professionally facilitated conversations between The Episcopal Church with those they are most in dispute.

"We are being asked to see our handling of conflict and potential division as part of our maturing both as pastors and as disciples," he wrote.

Further conversations are an attempt to ease tensions and clarify options, Williams said.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori welcomed the archbishop's recommendation.

"I am glad to hear of the archbishop's interest in facilitating further conversations," she said. "While I have repeatedly offered to engage in dialogue with those who are most unhappy, the offer has not yet been seriously engaged. Perhaps a personal call from the archbishop will bring to the table those who have thus far been unwilling to talk."

Williams acknowledged that the Communion has come to a deadlock but refused to believe that division is unavoidable or that future cooperation cannot be imagined.

"I cannot accept these assumptions, and I do not believe that as Christians we should see them as beyond challenge, least of all as we think and pray our way through Advent," he said.