Assoc. Press, 8 Aug 03:

World summit over gay bishop

LONDON, England (AP) --The Archbishop of Canterbury, struggling to hold the Anglican Communion together despite a rift over a newly confirmed gay U.S. bishop, said Friday he would summon Anglican primates to meet in London in October.

The announcement came three days after the Episcopal Church in the United States defied criticism from conservative Anglican leaders around the world and confirmed the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

"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," Archbishop Rowan Williams said.

"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 in a statement issued by his office.

"I hope we can use the time between now and then to reflect, to pray, to consult and to take counsel," he added.

Williams is the spiritual leader of the Church of England and of the Anglican communion -- a grouping of 38 independent churches around the world. Williams 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 avoided a crisis within the Church of England in July when Canon Jeffrey John, who described himself as a celibate homosexual, withdrew from appointment as bishop of Reading.

In 1998, the Lambeth Conference -- a once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops -- overwhelmingly voted to declare homosexuality to be "incompatible with Scripture" and said homosexuals should not be ordained as priests.

Williams, who was then archbishop of Wales, abstained from voting on that resolution. He later confirmed that he had knowingly ordained a gay man as a priest in Wales.

Since being elevated to Canterbury last year, Williams has said he would affirm that the Lambeth resolution represented the teaching of the church -- though he has not personally changed his mind.

That stance did not pacify his critics within the church of England, and some conservative evangelicals had called for him not to take the Canterbury post.

In the cause of unity, he has urged Anglican bishops not to press ahead with controversial initiatives when there is no consensus in the communion.

Before the Episcopal Church's decision, Archbishop Peter Akinola, who heads the 17.5 million-member Anglican Church in Nigeria, condemned Robinson's election as "a Satanic attack on God's church." He previously severed relations with the Anglican diocese of New Westminster in Canada because it sanctioned the blessing of gay relationships.

The Episcopal Church, at its convention in Minneapolis, decided not to approve a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions. However, it passed a measure affirming that such ceremonies, conducted in some U.S. dioceses, are "an acceptable practice in the church."

In Minneapolis, Jim Solheim, a national spokesman for the Episcopal Church, said Williams had spoken this week with the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. Solheim said he did not know any details of the conversation, or whether there was more than one.

Drexel Gomez, archbishop of the Bahamas and West Indies, has also sharply criticized the Episcopal Church.

"In our province and in this diocese, homosexual practices are not permitted and any evidence that this is going on will be dealt with very firmly by the bishop," Gomez told a news conference in Nassau on Wednesday.

He had urged Williams to meet with leaders of the provinces to see if the communion could hold together.

"In my view, this will be an extremely difficult task given the enormity of the decision in America," Gomez said.

But Archbishop of Perth Peter Carnley, the primate of Australia's Anglican Church, said this week he doubted the issue would tear the communion apart.

"We have to have a debate about how to apply the biblical principles ... to this modern and contemporary issue," said Carnley, who is considered a liberal.