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Fearing Schism, Anglicans To Meet

The archbishop of Canterbury said Friday he would summon leaders of the world's Anglican churches to consider the impact of the confirmation of a gay bishop in the United States.

Archbishop Rowan Williams said the meeting was planned for London in October, and invitations would be sent this week.

"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," Williams said.

The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion, this week confirmed the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a gay clergyman, as bishop of New Hampshire.

The move provoked outrage in parts of the Anglican communion, particularly in the doctrinally conservative African churches.

"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.

Anglicans in many parts of the world reacted angrily to Robinson's confirmation, with some threatening to cut ties with the American church.

Conservatives at the U.S. conference smeared ashes on their foreheads in a sign of mourning and penance, boycotted legislative sessions and dropped to their knees in prayer on the conference floor.

Robinson's opponents were also dismayed by the church's decision on Thursday to acknowledge that local parishes sanction same-sex marriages.

The church stopped short of approving a ritual to sanctify such unions, but did say it recognized that "local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions."

The measure on same-sex unions was not what advocates had hoped. Bishops rejected creating an official liturgy for the ceremonies.

But gays and their conservative opponents agree that the measure, which received final approval the day before the convention was to end Friday, signaled broader acceptance of homosexuality in the denomination.

The Rev. Francis Wade, head of the liturgical committee that wrote the document, said he interpreted the measure to mean that dioceses conducting same-sex blessings "are operating within the parameters of the understanding of this church and its doctrine and discipline."

The Episcopal gay advocacy group Integrity said "we understand the language clearly to give national license" to the ceremonies.

The Rev. Kendall Harmon, a leading conservative who lobbied against the document, said what "seems like a compromise" actually isn't.

"Let's be honest. This is authorization," Harmon said. "It sanctions homosexual behavior."

Others believed the measure acknowledged, but did not approve, such ceremonies.

It is unclear what impact — if any — the measure will have. Bishops now decide whether to permit same-sex blessing ceremonies in their local parishes and they retain what church leaders call that "local option."

Three bishops in Kansas, New Hampshire and Delaware — authorize same-sex blessings, according to the Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity. Other dioceses bar them, while some bishops have a "don't ask, don't tell" approach, overlooking the ceremonies priests perform.

The American Anglican Council, which represents conservative Episcopalians, planned a meeting Oct. 7-9 in Plano, Texas, to decide whether it will break from the church.

If conservatives do decide to break away, it was unclear what that would mean for the church. Some parishes could split from their dioceses and refuse to recognize clergy who support homosexuality, but stop short of a complete separation.

A full schism would trigger, among other things, bitter fights over parish assets and undercut the global influence of the U.S. church.

Addressing fears his ascent would split the worldwide Anglican Church, Robinson told the CBS News Early Show Wednesday, "I think we find our unity and believe in Jesus Christ, our service to him and our service to the would in his name. I think that's more important than any issue that might divide us."