The Episcopal Church in the United States has backed the consecration of gay bishops in a move commentators have described as a “step towards schism” in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
At the Episcopal Church General Convention in California this week, both the House of Deputies (composed of clergy and lay members) and the House of Bishops agreed to give “partnered gays” full access to ordination as bishops.
The move overturns a moratorium on ordaining homosexual bishops which the Episcopal Church has observed since 2006.
The Church had agreed to the moratorium after its election of openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson in defiance of biblical teaching and Anglican tradition in 2003.
The moratorium was intended as an act of restraint on the election of any further bishops whose “manner of life” would cause offence to other Anglicans.
Now the Episcopal Church’s latest resolution is considered a major blow to the fragile Anglican unity which has existed since then.
Those voting for the change ignored a personal plea from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Dr Williams had travelled to America last week to urge liberal clergy not to do anything to disrupt the unity of the Anglican Communion.
Dr Williams told the Convention: “Along with many in the Communion, I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart.”
Responding to news of the outcome of the moratorium vote, Dr Williams said: “I regret the fact that there is no will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the church in North America”.
The Bishop of Sherborne, Dr Graham Kings, said: “The Episcopal Church has clearly signalled, against the specific plea of the Archbishop of Canterbury on this very issue, its choice of autonomy over interdependence in the Anglican Communion.
“Questions will now have to be asked about the full continued participation of Episcopal Church representatives in Anglican Communion meetings.”