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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has stepped down as the leader of the 77-million strong Anglican Communion amid a struggle with the Church’s liberal wing over the issue of homosexuality
By Matthew Holehouse
Dr Williams has been long known for his socially liberal views but he frustrated the liberal wing of the Church by siding with conservatives over the issue of the appointment of homosexual priests.
He faces defeat over the Anglican Communion Covenant, a deal designed to prevent the Church splitting. It effective prevents openly gay clergy from becoming bishops by preventing branches doing anything that might cause a schism.
When Dr Williams unveiled the document in 2010, he urged the church to endorse it or risk seeing the “piece-by-piece dissolution” of the Anglican Communion.
The Bishop of Sherborne, the Rt Rev Dr Graham Kings, warned that rejection of the Covenant would cause the worldwide church to “disintegrate”, and added: “Rowan Williams has put his whole weight behind this … For anyone in his position it would be devastating [if it failed].”
Branches of the Anglican church around the world are considering whether the deal should be adopted.
In the Church of England it requires the approval of a majority of the 44 dioceses to proceed to a final vote at the General Synod.
But so far 17 dioceses have voted against, and only ten in favour. The rebellion is being led by liberal dioceses who say they would be punished under the arrangements.
The Covenant was drawn up in response to the split that emerged in 2003 when Gene Robinson was elected the first openly gay Anglican bishop by the Episcopal Church in the US.
Dr Williams set up a commission to try to heal the divisions after protests from conservative clergy, particularly in Africa.
The Covenant does not directly address the issue of gay bishops. But it says the 38 branches should take into account the views of the wider Anglican church when doing anything that “may provoke controversy”.
Under the proposed regime, a branch of the church that breached the rules could suffer sanctions, including suspension from Church bodies.
Dr Kings said: “If we don’t pass the Covenant we will disintegrate into a vortex of more splits and more fragmentation. It’s between increasing fragmentation or intensifying our relationships – that’s the choice.”
Dr Williams said earlier this month the aim is to make branches more “accountable” to each other. “As in any family, what we do affects those with whom we are in a relationship,” he said.
Stepping down today, he said the row had not “overshadowed everything,” but said: “It has certainly been a major nuisance. But in every job that you are in there are controversies and conflicts and this one isn’t going to go away in a hurry. I can’t say that it is a great sense of ‘free at last’.”
Source: The Telegraph