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Possible Consecration of Bishop In NH Threatens Unity of Church

By Laurie Goodstein

The New York Times -- LONDON

After a tense two-day emergency summit, Anglican leaders on Thursday sidestepped an immediate schism over homosexuality but warned that if the American church proceeds to consecrate a gay bishop in New Hampshire next month, the global Anglican Communion could eventually crack apart.

“If his consecration proceeds,” said a statement signed by all 37 clergymen attending the meeting, “we recognize that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the communion itself will be put in jeopardy.”

The primates’ statement put the onus on leaders of the Episcopal Church USA, the American wing of Anglicanism, not to go ahead with the final consecration ceremony for Bishop-elect V. Gene Robinson, scheduled for Nov. 2.

Leaders of the New Hampshire diocese quickly responded Thursday by saying that they did not intend to back down. They said that Robinson had been overwhelmingly elected after nearly three decades of ministry in New Hampshire, and confirmed at a church convention in Minneapolis this summer.

The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, past-president of Integrity, an advocacy group for lesbian and gay Episcopalians, said he had exchanged e-mail messages with the bishop-elect Thursday and concluded: “He’s not going to back down. He knows too much is on the line.”

The primates’ meeting may have merely postponed the divisions, said Archbishop Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. The Canadian diocese of New Westminster voted in May to allow ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions, a step also criticized by the primates on Thursday.

“We agreed to disagree,” he said. “We are still in communion but there are dark dark clouds on the horizon.”

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, primate of the Episcopal Church USA, signed the primates’ statement on Thursday. But he said at a news conference afterward that he stood behind the votes in New Hampshire and Minneapolis to affirm a gay bishop and expected to attend the consecration. He did not explain the apparent contradiction.

Asked if he planned to ask Robinson to reconsider, he said, “I might do many things.”

The primates also opened the door for some kind of reorganization among American and Canadian conservatives who have already begun the process of splitting with their churches.

After the Canadian diocese of New Westminster decided in May to permit the union ceremonies of gay couples, several dissenting parishes there effectively put themselves under the authority of a different Canadian diocese. In the United States, six dioceses and several parishes have resolved to separate from the Episcopal Church, a situation that is likely to result in legal battles over church property and assets.

The Anglican leaders acknowledged that since each province is independent under church law, they had no judicial power to interfere with the decisions by the Episcopal Church or the diocese of New Westminster.

The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, had summoned the church primates to the meeting this week, and staked his authority on their reaching a consensus that would preserve Anglican unity and the mission work of the church.