Church of England backs covenant but traditionalists rebel

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The Church of England edged closer Wednesday to backing a global agreement intended to unify the Anglican Church, but the process received a blow when traditionalists said they could not support it.

Members of the Church of England's national assembly, the General Synod, voted overwhelmingly for a proposal to send the Anglican Covenant to dioceses across the country for further consideration.

The covenant has been strongly promoted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican church.

Supporters of the document say it sets out ways to resolve disputes within the Anglican community, or communion, such as those revealed over the ordination of gay and female bishops.

It was drawn up following the global row over the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire in the United States.

However, opponents believe it reduces the autonomy of individual churches.

"To me, this text sounds rather like a couple in marital difficulties deciding to ask their wider family to vote on whether they should divorce or not," Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a chaplain at Durham University in northeast England, said during the synod debate.

Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester in southwest England, said it was with "some reluctance" that he voted for the convenant to move forward for further consideration, as he feared it could eventually be used to punish other Anglicans.

But he said: "Not to vote for it is to make more difficult the task of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his ministry to the Communion. I want to strengthen, not weaken his hand."

Each of the church's 38 provinces is being asked to agree to the covenant, which will be enforced by a standing committee of the communion, and the decision by the English synod -- representing one province -- gives it a boost.

But within hours of the vote, a traditionalist worldwide grouping representing several African Anglican provinces said that supporting the covenant was "no longer appropriate".

"While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well-intentioned, we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate", the Global Anglican Future Conference primates' council said in a statement.

© 2010 AFP

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