A high-level commission of the worldwide Anglican Communion today called on the American Episcopal Church to publicly express regret for consecrating a gay bishop and to agree to a moratorium on any other gay bishops and on the blessing of same sex unions.
The gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, also was urged to stay away from future Anglican Communion meetings. In addition, every American bishop who consented to his consecration last year was urged to stay away until they expressed regrets for endorsing him and breaching the unity of the 77-million global communion.
Robinson's office said he would have no comment until he had had a chance to read the full report. He was expected to confer privately with clergy from his diocese.
The Lambeth Commission, appointed by the archbishop of Canterbury, also was firm in urging conservative Anglican bishops in Africa, Asia and South America who have assumed jurisdiction over dissident American parishes to stop such interventions and to express regret for their own actions. A Ugandan bishop is providing guidance to three dissident parishes in the Los Angeles diocese.
In the longer term, the commission headed by Archbishop Robert Eames, the Anglican primate of Ireland, broke with Anglican tradition and for the first time called for an international "Anglican covenant" that would require the 38 self-governing Anglican national or regional churches spanning 164 countries to surrender some of their autonomy. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of Anglicanism.
Should the various Anglican churches refuse to take these steps, the commission warned that the global communion could be irrevocably fractured.
"There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together," the 121-page report to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said. "Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart."
The report stopped far short of adopting a Roman Catholic model of top-down leadership. But it called for more authority to be placed in the hands of the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the communion.
"The commission believes, therefore, that the historic position of the archbishop of Canterbury must not be regarded as a figurehead, but as the central focus of both unity and mission within the communion."
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding U.S. bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, issued a statement almost immediately expressing his regret over "how difficult and painful actions of our church have been" for conservative Anglicans overseas. But whether such a statement will satisfy the report's recommendations remains to be seen. Worldwide church leaders are expected to review the issues in February.
Conservatives were sure to be upset by Griswold's continuing support for Robinson and the primate's belief that gays and lesbians had been good for the church.
"As presiding bishop, I am obligated to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church, and in all orders of ministry," Griswold said today. "I regret that there are places within our communion, where it is unsafe for them to speak out the truth of who they are."
While considered a rebuke to American liberals, the document fell short of the harsher discipline conservatives in the U.S. and abroad had hoped for.
They also complained that the commission had not recommended allowing a separate conservative Anglican church in the U.S. and Canada with its own bishops. And conservatives also lost on a related issue when the commission endorsed the U.S. Episcopal Church's position that any outside bishops can minister to conservative parishes solely at the discretion of the local bishop.
In Washington, Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane, who not only consented to Robinson's consecration but, like Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno, performed a same-sex union, said he welcomed the invitation to express his regret — not at his actions but that they had caused division in the Anglican Communion.
"I accept this invitation, and express my sadness that actions we undertook in good conscience — actions which gave hope to one alienated and marginalized population — have themselves engendered alienation and made others feel marginalized. This was not our intent. We lament this result and I commit myself to participating fully and energetically in the process of reconciliation through dialogue and discernment which is outlined in the commission's report," Chane said.
Bruno's office said he would have no immediate comment.
The Lambeth Commission report, known officially as the Windsor Report 2004, now goes to a meeting of church primates in February.