The Anglican spiritual leader has broken his silence regarding the controversial ordination of another openly homosexual bishop in the U.S.
In a Pentecost letter released by the Anglican Communion News Service Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed that The Episcopal Church play a lesser role in certain dialogues. He stopped short of asking the U.S. body to leave.
"We are at a point in our common life where broken communications and fragile relationships have created a very mistrustful climate," said Dr. Rowan Williams in his letter to the 77 million-member communion.
"To maintain outward unity at a formal level while we are convinced that the divisions are not only deep but damaging to our local mission is not a good thing," he acknowledged. "Neither is it a good thing to break away from each other so dramatically that we no longer see Christ in each other and risk trying to create a church of the 'perfect' – people like us."
Tensions are high within the Anglican Communion in the weeks after the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles consecrated a partnered lesbian, Mary Glasspool, despite calls by the rest of the global body against such actions. Conservative Anglicans have expressed frustration at The Episcopal Church's continued defiance of Scripture and the Anglican Communion.
While some have said a split is imminent in the world's third largest Christian body, Williams has worked to keep the communion together.
"[W]e are called to seek for mutual harmony and common purpose, and not to lose heart," he wrote in the letter. "If the truth of Christ is indeed ultimately one as we all believe, there should be a path of mutual respect and thankfulness that will hold us in union and help us grow in that truth."
He noted that even amid division over doctrine or discipline, Anglicans across the world have expressed the desire to work together to care for the poor and vulnerable and for mission.
Still, something had to be done about The Episcopal Church's decisions to defy the requests of the larger global body, he indicated.
"[W]e cannot pretend there is no problem," he said.
"There are still things being done that the representative bodies of the Communion have repeatedly pleaded should not be done; and this leads to recrimination, confusion and bitterness all round. It is clear that the official bodies of The Episcopal Church have felt in conscience that they cannot go along with what has been asked of them by others, and the consecration of Canon Mary Glasspool on May 15 has been a clear sign of this."
He proposed that a province that breaches any of the moratoria – including consecrations of bishops living in same-sex relationships – that were agreed to since 2004 should not participate in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Anglican Communion is formally engaged.
"In our dealings with other Christian communions, we do not seek to deny our diversity; but there is an obvious problem in putting forward representatives of the Communion who are consciously at odds with what the Communion has formally requested or stipulated," he explained. "This does not seem fair to them or to our partners.
"In our dealings with each other, we need to be clear that conscientious decisions may be taken in good faith, even for what are held to be good theological or missional reasons, and yet have a cost when they move away from what is recognizable and acceptable within the Communion."
He also proposed that such provinces should not have any decision-making powers on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order – a body that examines issues of doctrine and authority – but just participate as consultants.
Glasspool's consecration this month came seven years after The Episcopal Church widened rifts when it ordained its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The Anglican Communion currently rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.