By Jim Naughton
The Archbishop of Canterbury put the squeeze on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada today, saying that the Anglican Communion would be in “grave peril” if the North American churches did not adopt a moratorium on same- sex blessings and the consecration of gay bishops.
Some 650 bishops who met at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury expressed “a wide degree of agreement on moratoria,” Williams said. The conference, which convenes every ten years, ended today.
“I think if the North American churches don’t accept the need for a moratoria then at least we are no further forward,” Williams said at the conference’s concluding press briefing. “As a communion we would be in grave peril.”
”The majority of the bishops at the conference also support a moratorium on “border crossings” by the primates of Anglican provinces who have laid claim to theologically conservative parishes and dioceses in Brazil, Canada and the United States.
Only one of the five primates who has authorized such activities attended the conference. The others boycotted the meeting because Williams had invited bishops who had participated in the consecration of the Rt. Rev. V Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, who is openly gay and lives with his partner. That bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone, on the southern half of South America, said he plans to continue interventions when necessary.
Williams drew a distinction between the practice of blessing same-sex relationships as a form of “pastoral care” and authorizing a ritual for blessings.
“ As soon as there is a liturgical form it gives the impression that this has the church’s stamp on it,” he said. “There are people in the USA who would say pastoral care means rites of blessing. I am not very happy about that.”
No diocese in the Episcopal Church has an authorized rite for blessing same sex relationships, although at least one has been rescinded and several dioceses have experimented with trial rites. The Diocese of New Westminster (Vancouver) in Canada has authorized a rite. Several other Canadian dioceses are also considering authorizing rites.
Numerous Episcopal dioceses permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, but without a rite.
Bishops Jon Bruno of Los Angeles and Marc Andrus of California, which includes the San Francisco Bay area, have already said that they would not attempt to stop the blessing of gay relationships in their diocese. Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington has also said he would not attempt to stop same-sex blessings.
“I can only say that inclusion is a reality in our diocese and will continue to be,” Bruno said. “For people who think that this is going to lead us to disenfranchise any gay or lesbian person, they are sadly mistaken.”
In his closing presidential address, which he delivered just before the press conference, Williams said he wanted “a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum” within the next two months from the Windsor Continuation Group, which he has charged with finding ways to help draw the Communion together as another body, the Covenant Design Group, works out how the Communion will handle internal disputes, such as the current controversy over homosexuality.
Williams said there was lingering support for a previously rejected proposal to bring outside mediators from elsewhere in the Communion to bear on the internal disputes of member provinces. “There was a sense that that sort of external support was something worth pursuing,” he said.
However, a set of Reflections issued at the close of the conference said the many bishops believed the forum could “operate in a Province only with the consent of that Province and in particular with the consent of the Primate or appropriate body.”
Williams also said that the conference had given the proposed Anglican Covenant “a following wind.” He said he hoped that the text of the covenant would be approved within a year and sent to the Communion’s 38 provinces for approval. If a province did not approve the covenant, “it doesn’t mean there is an absolute level of separation,” Williams said, but a potential diminishment of a province’s participation in the life of the Communion.
Gay and lesbian groups at the conference have objected to calls for a moratorium, saying that Williams was relying on an already marginalized minority to make the sacrifices that will preserve the unity of the communion. “Sacrifice has to be accepted voluntarily that’s true,” Williams said. “ That’s why this means something about consent. There are those, I know, who won’t be willing to take on that kind of sacrifice.
“There is something about the preservation of the global fellowship that is bigger than any of us.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA said Williams was calling for sacrifice from people who had not been represented at the conference.
“I think it is sad that the Archbishop of Canterbury has placed himself so far on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the gospel on this issue,” she said.
Williams said that the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council will meet in November to discuss the pastoral forum and the covenant. He plans to call a Primates Meeting in early 2009. The Anglican Consultative Council meets in May 2009.
"Anyone who thinks we will come to a definitive conclusion overnight doesn't understand the church in general and the Anglican Communion in particular," said Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas, who said he appreciated that Williams had "acknowledged the continuing incursions in the life of the Episcopal Church. Those can only be detrimental to our desire on to walk together in unity."
Wolfe said it was essential that the Communion not attempt to preserve its unity "on the backs" of gays and lesbians."These things take time but in the end we tend to come round right."
Bishop Steve Lane of Maine said he was "really moved and inspired by the vision of catholic humanity and the vision of Christ in all" that Williams explored during the conference. However, he said he felt tension between that vision and what seemed to be Williams' request that "some churches sacrifice some of their members. I don’t think we can sacrifice a group of the baptized. That is beyond our power and it would be a grave wrong. "