June 19, 2006

Anglican bishop sees schism over US church head

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - Anglicans faced a new crisis on Monday
after a liberal female bishop became head of the U.S. branch of
the church and an English bishop warned that Anglicanism was in
danger of splitting into "two religions."

The consecration of openly gay American bishop Gene
Robinson and the blessing of same sex marriages in Canada three
years ago have deepened differences between liberals and
conservatives among the world's 77 million Anglicans.

Now the broad church, which prides itself on governing by
consensus, is braced for fresh turmoil after the U.S. Episcopal
Church chose Katherine Jefferts Schori as its first female

"It will be a great adventure," Schori promised after her
election at the weekend -- but the already battered and bruised
Anglican community was not so sure.

"Having a woman primate is an exciting complication," said
Church Times Editor Paul Handley.

"The problem is her views. She is quite permissive toward
local churches giving blessing to same sex couples and she
supported the ordination of Robinson," he told Reuters.

But he felt talk of a definitive split, although African
Anglicans are strongly opposed to homosexuality, was premature.

"The genius of Anglicanism is that it has been able to cope
with huge variations in doctrine and practice. Talk of schism
is exaggerated," he said.

But the Church of England Bishop of Rochester, Michael
Nazir-Ali, said the divisions were now so deep that compromise
was no longer possible.

"Nobody wants a split but if you think you have virtually
two religions in a single Church, something has got to give
sometime," he told The Daily Telegraph.


Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the
worldwide Anglican church, said Schori was taking up "a deeply
demanding position at a critical time."

"We are continuing to pray for the general convention of
the Episcopal Church as it confronts a series of exceptionally
difficult choices," Williams said in a statement after talking
to Schori by telephone earlier in the day.

The issue of a "stained glass ceiling" stopping women from
rising in the hierarchy ranks alongside the ordination of gay
clergy as one of the most disruptive in the Anglican Church.

Anglicans in Canada, the United States and New Zealand
already have women bishops.

Archbishop Williams won backing in February for the
ordination of women bishops in the Church of England but
theological and legal hurdles remain to be cleared.

One in six of England's parish priests is a woman and, a
decade after they were first ordained, liberals say it is
insulting not to let them hold positions of power.

But traditionalists argue that as Jesus Christ's apostles
were men, there is no precedent in the Bible for women bishops.

Reverand David Anderson, president of the American Anglican
Council, a conservative group that opposed Schori's nomination,
said her election made a schism more likely.

"We would expect the Episcopal Church will continue its
acceleration into outer space," he said in the United States.
"The fabric of the communion is being torn at its deepest
level. This will simply accelerate and continue the tearing."

(Additional reporting by Gideon Long)