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A Canterbury tale, Archbishop apologizes to LGBT Anglicans
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A Canterbury tale, Archbishop apologizes to LGBT Anglicans

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In his opening speech to the General Synod of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams called for an end to infighting over Gay and women clergy and apologized to LGBT Anglicans.

'The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of Gay or Lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation,' Williams said.

"There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them," he continued. "I have been criticized for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression."

The General Synod is a gathering of bishops from all of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, representing its 77 million members worldwide.

The Anglican Communion includes the U.S. Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and Anglican Churches in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Archbishop of Canterbury, England, is recognized as the titular head of the Anglican Church, although he lacks the absolute theological and administrative authority of the Roman Catholic Pope.

Williams finds himself at the head of a church wracked by controversy over who may be ordained as clergy, with Anglican conservatives rejecting Gay - and even women - bishops.

The Rev. Eugene Robinson, an openly Gay man with a long-term partner, was elected Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Nineteen other Episcopal bishops issued a statement of protest, warning of a possible schism over Gay issues within the Anglican Communion.

The situation became even more complicated in December last year, when the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected a Lesbian bishop, Mary Glasspool. Some conservative Anglicans oppose ordination of even straight women, much less Lesbians.

While conservatives were outraged, the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, said she would consecrate any bishop whose election followed the rules.

After Robinson's election, some Episcopalians left the Episcopal Church in the US and organized the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), affiliated with bishops in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda. More joined ACNA after Glasspool's election.

Many African bishops are friendly towards the anti-Gay faction in the US.

On the other hand, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has been openly supportive of Gay clergy. The South African Constitution guarantees full equality for LGBT citizens, including marriage rights.

Pope Benedict XVI has also tried to capitalize on the disarray in the Anglican Church, offering to set up special jurisdictions for conservative Anglican clergy who defect to the Roman Catholic Church.

Dr. Williams' attempts to moderate the controversy often seemed hostile to Gay Anglicans.

Unlike all the other US Episcopal bishops, Bishop Robinson was not invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.

In a statement posted on his website, Dr. Williams said Glasspool's election "raises very serious questions, not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole."

Suggesting that Glasspool's election "could be rejected by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees," Williams warned that their "decision will have very important implications."

Williams has also been critical of Britain's Equality Bill - which would ban workplace discrimination against LGBT persons - on the grounds that the government had no right "to tell religious bodies which of the tasks for which they might employ people required and which did not require some level of compliance with the public teaching of the church about behavior."

On the other hand, Williams strongly condemned Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

"Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can't see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades," he said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible - it seeks to turn pastors into informers," he continued.

While he apologized to LGBT Anglicans, Dr. Williams also took special care to extend a hand to conservatives. He warned against the "megaphone tones" used in the debate on Gay clergy, and cautioned US Episcopalians - who have ordained both women and Gays as bishops - not to alienate their colleagues in less liberal societies.

The chairman of the conservative Anglican group Reform, the Reverend Rod Thomas, said the Archbishop's address was positive for traditionalists.

"I thought it was a very wise speech," Thomas said, "asking Christians to bear with one another and to care about the impact they're having on one another, and not to so pursue what they want to see that they effectively exclude people from the Church."

Not all the conservatives were so impressed, however. The conservative bishop of Winchester, England, Michael Scott-Joynt, reportedly made a show of giving only perfunctory applause to the Archbishop's plea for tolerance.

Immediately following Williams' remarks to the Synod, Archbishop Orombi of Uganda issued a statement in which he said, "Homosexual practice has no place in God's design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation or His plan of redemption."

"[L]esbianism, bestiality and other sexual perversions" should also be prohibited, Orombi insisted.

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