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Anglican head warns of fallout

Williams has warned Anglicans worldwide of
Williams has warned Anglicans worldwide of "difficult days ahead."

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LONDON, England -- The head of the world's 70 million Anglicans has voiced fears of "irrevocable" fallout from a U.S. decision to install an openly gay bishop.

Conservative Anglicans are furious and there have been threats of splits in various overseas branches of the church, notably in Africa and the United States.

"Difficult days lie ahead for the Anglican church after the decision of the Episcopal Church of the United States to confirm the election of Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in a statement.

"It is my hope that the church in America and the rest of the Anglican communion will have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response," he added.

Although the Archbishop is head of the Anglican communion worldwide, it is a loose alliance of Anglican and Episcopal churches (episcopal means governed by bishops) with shared beliefs rather than a worldwide organization with a formal power structure, like the Roman Catholic Church.

That means the Archbishop of Canterbury, while enjoying significant authority as head of the Church of England, has no powers to reign in overseas churches who take controversial decisions.

A similar case of the appointment of a celibate gay man, Jeffrey John, to be Bishop of Reading in the UK ended with the nominee, after talks with Williams, standing down.

The Nigerian Anglican church had threatened to withdraw from the Anglican communion if the appointment went ahead.

Growing crisis

Just a year in office, Williams, the liberal, quietly-spoken former Archbishop of Wales, has been facing a growing crisis in the church with its conservative and liberal wings at loggerheads.

Before he took up his job in December, Williams had provoked controversy with his open tolerance of gay clergy, same-sex relations and the promotion of women as bishops.

"The General Convention's decision to approve the appointment of Gene Robinson will inevitably have a significant impact on the Anglican communion throughout the world and it is too early to say what the result of that will be," he said in the statement issued in London.

Williams appealed against knee-jerk reactions to Tuesday's U.S. vote.

"I have said before that we need as a church to be very careful about making decisions for our own part of the world which constrain the church elsewhere."

With the Church of England set to publish a discussion booklet on human sexuality later this year, Williams said those upset at the gay issue should be heard.

"It will be vital to ensure that the concerns and needs of those across the communion who are gravely concerned at this development can be heard, understood and taken into account," he added.

British Labour MP Stuart Bell, a Church of England commissioner, said it was not a matter of "right or wrong."

Instead the Church of England had to continue its "rational and patient" debate on how both sides of the argument could exist side by side.

The U.S. was "ahead of the game," he told BBC radio, and pointed out that the choice had been made freely "by all sections of the church."

"What we have to do ... in the church, is look at how we bring a majority view and a minority view together.

"Who is right or wrong is not really the issue. It is how we can bring together, within the Anglican community, both strands of opinion, sincerely held, one believing in a literal interpretation of the bible, others believing in a liberal interpretation."

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