English church votes down pact to unite Anglicans

LONDON Sat Mar 24, 2012 10:03pm GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - A proposed deal to hold the worldwide Anglican Communion together amid divisions over homosexuality and same-sex unions appeared to be in tatters on Saturday after the mother church, the Church of England, voted to reject it.

Analysts said the Church's decision effectively derailed the adoption of the pact throughout the Communion, a loose family of 38 national and regional churches, and raised questions about whether the Christian alliance could stay united.

A majority of the Church of England's 44 districts or "dioceses" had decided against the landmark "Anglican Covenant" pact, campaigners against the agreement said.

"With today's results ... the proposed Anglican Covenant is now dead in the water in the Church of England. This also poses serious problems for the covenant in other provinces (member churches)," said Lesley Crawley, an English priest and moderator of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition.

The covenant was first proposed in 2004 in an attempt to deal with tensions between conservatives and liberals arising from the consecration of the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson by the Episcopal Church, the Anglican church in the United States.

The proposed deal required member churches to agree not to act in a way likely to upset Anglicans in other countries, and to settle disputes through consultation.

But the pact, which tried to bring liberal and conservative wings of the Communion together, ended up facing opposition from both sides.

Liberal Anglicans fear the covenant will impose centralising control on the Communion's family of autonomous churches, while conservatives and evangelicals complain it does not go far enough to discipline churches that step out of line.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans, had championed the pact, arguing in 2010 that without it there was a real danger of a "piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion".

Williams announced last week he would step down in December after a decade in his post to take up a post in academia.

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition said on Saturday it had gained the remaining two votes it needed from the Church of England's 44 dioceses to block the pact after a protracted voting process.

"The covenant is either buried or disabled," said Simon Barrow, co-director of the religious think-tank Ekklesia.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no direct power over member churches.

The covenant does not need a set number of member churches onboard for it to go ahead, but the fact that the mother church's dioceses have now voted against it will make it hard to push through.

"It seems to me the scheme is dead in the water throughout the Anglican Communion," said Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the Church at Oxford University.

"There really would be no point in other provinces signing up to it, since already some are most reluctant to do so."

Provinces in favour of the covenant so far are Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, West Indies, Southern Cone, South East Asia and Southern Africa, pending ratification at the next synod, or governing body.

(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Tim Castle)

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