Dispute over homosexuality not over yet, says Archbishop of Canterbury

Published February 21, 2007

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams preaches at Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar with help from a Swahili interpreter.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has said that the creation of a pastoral council to provide oversight to dissenting churches and congregations in the U.S. is “an interim solution that will certainly fall very far short of resolving all the disputes that are before us” but was nonetheless one that would “provide a way of moving forward with integrity.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked Episcopalians to “be of good faith” following the ultimatum issued by Anglican leaders for the American church to state unequivocally by Sept. 30 that it would bar same-sex blessings and stop ordaining gay bishops.

A communique released by primates of the Anglican Communion at the end of their meeting Feb. 15-19 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania warned of consequences if the demand is not met but did not spell them out.

At a press conference held shortly after the release of the communique, Archbishop Williams indicated that the consequence would not be downright expulsion from the Communion. He said that if the U.S. church cannot “in good conscience” comply with the demand “that has to affect some of the consideration we would want to give about the organs of the Communion.”

Asked whether this included withholding invitations to the Lambeth Conference, he replied, “Among other things, that’ll have to be under consideration. I don’t pre-empt a decision but that’ll have to be discussed.” (The next Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of the world’s Anglican bishops, will be held in Canterbury, England, from July 16 to Aug.4, 2008.)

Archbishop Williams also underscored that the communique included a request to have a “ceasefire” on litigation involving churches and congregations in dispute over properties resulting from disagreements over views on sexuality. “The primates urge representatives of The Episcopal Church and of those congregations in property disputes with it, to suspend all actions in law arising from this situation,” he said. “None of us, none of us believe that litigation and counter litigation can be a proper way forward and we don’t see that we can move towards sensible balanced reconciliation while that remains a threat in wide use.”

Archbishop Williams also said that the creation by the primates of a pastoral council was meant to “rectify” the situation where some conservative primates have intervened in the jurisdictions of the U.S. and provided alternative episcopal oversight to dissenting parishes. “We accepted the good faith of those responsible for such interventions, and we heard some very moving testimonies about that. At the same time they and we recognize that that can only be a temporary solution and the preferable solution is to have some kind of settlement negotiated within the church life of the United States,” he said.

(The primates have said that the work of the pastoral council could be applied in other provinces. While it did not cite the Anglican Church of Canada, it has similarly been divided over homosexuality and some congregations have already been receiving Episcopal oversight from conservative primates without the consent of Canadian bishops.)

Meanwhile, Bishop Jefferts Schori said The Episcopal Church would consider the primates’ request during a meeting of its house of bishops this March 16-21 at Camp Allen, Texas.

“Be of good faith. We’re entering Lent and there’s probably not a better time for us to receive this communique from the primates’ meeting,” she said in an interview with the Episcopal News Service. “It will be hard news for a number of members of this church; it will be welcome news for other members of this church. This is a season to remember who is the focus of our faith and it is not we ourselves.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori described the meeting in Tanzania as “challenging.” She added: “It began in some graciousness. We heard from three other bishops of The Episcopal Church; the whole meeting did. That was a difficult time for some, to hear the diversity and intensity of viewpoints.”

She said that a number of primates made it clear “about wanting additional clarity” from the U.S. church about its position on same-sex blessings and the ordination of gay bishops.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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