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World Anglicans debate gay priests

Williams has said the church faces a "messy" future dealing with gay clergy

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LONDON, England -- Leaders of the Anglican Church have gathered in London to debate the crisis over gay clergy.

Thirty-eight primates from around the world are attending the special meeting at Lambeth Palace, convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

They will discuss how to unify the church on an issue that has forced a split along conservative and liberal lines. It has also opened a schism between the church in Africa and America.

The two-day summit was called by Archbishop Rowan Williams after the American Episcopal church elected openly gay priest Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire earlier this year. The U.S. Episcopal church is part of the Anglican community. Robinson is a divorced father-of-two with a long-term male partner.

After seven hours of talks, Irish Anglican leader Robert Eames emerged from London's 12th-century Lambeth Palace and suggested a conciliatory solution was on the cards.

"It's moving towards a consensus situation,'' Eames was quoted by Reuters as saying. "Now, what form that consensus will be won't become obvious -- if it is to become obvious -- until tomorrow.''

"There is a tremendous anxiety to maintain the Anglican community,'' he added. "I am optimistic that the Anglican communion will emerge from this stronger than it has ever been.''

The summit also follows the authorization of a rite for same-sex blessings in New Westminster diocese, Canada, and the row in the UK over the nomination of Canon Jeffrey John, who is openly gay, as Bishop of Reading.

John withdrew his acceptance of the post after a campaign by evangelicals within the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Five points are reported to be on the Lambeth agenda, including asking the U.S. church to retreat or be suspended from the communion.

Another is to create a "parallel jurisdiction" for conservatives with a separate province and archbishop transcending national boundaries, the UK's Press Association reports.

A similar system was created in 1993 to cater for parishes and clergy opposed to women priests.

Robinson said he believed God was "doing a new thing in terms of its inclusion in terms of gay and lesbian people in the world and in the church."

He is backed by the Rev. Giles Fraser, chair of the Inclusive Church. He was quoted by PA as saying: "The contemporary church is currently in danger of losing its open and inclusive approach.

"These are worrying times."

But opponents say the move departs from the Bible's teaching.

Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, said: "I don't accept that you can say the Scripture means one thing in Nigeria and something else in America.

"It's one God, one Scripture, and one faith."

The Southern Hemisphere is growing in significance in the church. More than half the world's Anglicans live in Africa, and they are predominantly conservative.

Williams, who was considered a liberal when he was appointed last year, has said the Anglican Communion faces a "messy" future dealing with the issue.

A spokesman for the Anglican Communion told PA that Williams' chief concern was to listen to his fellow primates.

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