London The archbishop of Canterbury called an emergency meeting of the world's Anglican leaders to discuss the approval of a gay American bishop, seeking compromise Friday amid much talk of schism and few hints of compromise.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, leader of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, acted three days after the U.S. Episcopal Church confirmed the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is an openly gay priest whose nomination drew criticism from conservative Anglican leaders throughout the world.
"I am clear that the anxieties caused by recent developments have reached the point where we will need to sit down and discuss their consequences," Williams said in a statement issued by his office at Lambeth Palace in London.
"I hope that in our deliberations we will find that there are ways forward in this situation which can preserve our respect for one another and for the bonds that unite us," Williams said.
The meeting is set for mid-October, shortly before Robinson's scheduled Nov. 2 consecration. Church officials in London said they could not recall any previous emergency meetings since the 38 provincial leaders held the first of their occasional meetings in 1979.
There will be many competing voices at the table. Some leaders of other Anglican churches threatened to shun the Episcopalian Church, the 2.3 million-member U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion. Conservative Episcopalians talked of splitting the U.S. church. And a gay group demanded a place at the conference, an idea that will almost certainly anger conservatives.
"I hope there will now be a division in the worldwide church. That is the only way we can be clear that some of us do not accept this," said the Rev. David Phillips, general secretary of the Church Society, a small but vocal conservative evangelical group in the Church of England.
"The assumption seems to be we can somehow keep the communion together and preserve unity just by getting together in a meeting. It is just nonsense," Phillips said.
Williams is the spiritual leader of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion. He has no authority to impose discipline on the provinces, and they have differed in the past on the ordination of women as priests and the appointment of women as bishops.
Williams has said he ordained a homosexual when he was archbishop of Wales, and he did not vote for a resolution condemning homosexuality as "incompatible with Scripture" at the 1998 Lambeth Conference -- a once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops.
The Rev. Richard Kirker, general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said gay Christians must be involved.
Otherwise, Kirker said, "it would be like a conference on racism without any black people invited."
Bruce Mason, a spokesman for the American Anglican Council, said he hoped Williams would consider creating another Anglican province in North America for conservatives who want to stay within the Anglican Communion but split from the Episcopal Church. The council represents conservatives who opposed Robinson's confirmation.
"We're very encouraged," Mason said at the Episcopal Church General Convention in Minneapolis, where Robinson was approved. "It's clear that the archbishop recognizes the gravity of this situation."
Robinson has said he wants to reach out to those who think his confirmation will damage the church, but he also said he would not be responsible if they choose to break away.
Robinson "thinks it's great" that Williams called the meeting, said the bishop-elect's spokesman, Mike Barwell. Robinson views Williams' move as a "pastoral response to discuss and pray about this," Barwell said in Minneapolis.