LONDON (Reuters) - Conservative Anglicans rejected on Wednesday a proposed landmark agreement designed to prevent splits in the worldwide church, just as the Church of England moved a step closer to adopting it.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the 80 million Anglicans worldwide, has invested much personal authority in the agreement, which aims to prevent disputes over divisive issues such as gay bishops and same-sex unions.
A group largely led by African church leaders rejected the proposed agreement, called a covenant, which would require member churches to settle disputes through discussion.
Williams said the worldwide Anglican church, or Communion, faced a “piece-by-piece dissolution” if member churches failed to undertake to avoid actions that upset others.
The General Synod, the Church of England’s governing body, voted in favour of the deal, although it still has a number of stages to go before adoption which would be no earlier than 2012.
But the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) Primates’ Council said they no longer backed it.
“While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate,” the council said in a statement.
The covenant was first proposed in 2004 following tensions over the consecration of an openly gay bishop at the Episcopal Church, the official U.S. member of the Communion. Those Anglicans who supported the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson fear the covenant would impede similar acts in future.
Conservative churches were initially in favour of the covenant, but were unhappy when disciplinary measures were toned down during its revision.
“This just proves how ineffectual it is going to be ... it won’t keep us together,” Giles Fraser, Canon at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and president of the liberal Inclusive Church group, told Reuters.
“All the archbishop’s hard work in getting it through and using up one of his lives, seems rather pointless,” he added.
The covenant does not require the support of GAFCON, which says it represents two-thirds of Anglicans, for it to pass. Mexico has agreed to adopt the covenant and South Africa is close to agreeing, the synod was told.
Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne, said the primates’ decision was likely to result in a two-tier Anglican Communion, with those signing up in tier one, and others in tier two.
“They will still be part of the Communion but they won’t be part of the centre in terms of representation,” he told Reuters.
Editing by David Stamp