| Gene Robinson at the consecration ceremony in the Episcopal Church in Durham, New Hampshire. (Reuters)
London, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Conservative Anglicans refused today to recognise the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire and accused the US church of “declaring independence.”
From Latin America to Africa, prelates thundered their disapproval of Canon Gene Robinson’s appointment which has plunged the 450-year-old church into one of its biggest crises. “The devil has clearly entered the church. God cannot be mocked,” said Kenya’s Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi who cut all ties with the US Episcopalian Church.
But Liberals hailed Robinson’s consecration, saying it spelt an end to hypocrisy and double standards in a broad church that stretches from affluent North American cities to Africa’s poorest villages.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, battling to keep the world’s 70 million Anglicans together, said the divisions were “a matter of deep regret.”
Possessing none of the disciplinary powers of the pope in the rigid Roman Catholic hierarchy, church leader Williams now faces an uphill battle for consensus among Anglicans in 164 countries.
Nigeria’s Anglican leader Peter Akinola bluntly signalled a north-south divide, saying: “We can not and will not recognise the office or ministry of Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop.
“We deplore the act of those bishops who have taken part in the consecration which has now divided the church,” he said in a statement representing over 50 million Anglicans in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Archbishop Greg Venables, the Anglican leader in South America, said: “The US have declared independence. I think the chances of consensus are very slim.”
Australian church leaders joined the conservative camp with Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen telling Reuters: “It is a very sad day for the church... As far as I am concerned, he is not a bishop.”
Irish Anglican leader Robin Eames, appointed by Williams to head the commission tackling the thorny issue, pleaded for time. “We are moving into unknown territory,” he said.
Eames, known in the church as the divine optimist for his positive approach, said Anglicans had conquered their divisions over the issue of women priests and could do so again over gays.
But the Liberal wing of the church sought to quell conservative outrage.
In Britain, Southwark Cathedral’s Dean Colin Slee said Anglicans should rejoice that “at last there is an open and honest consecration of a homosexual bishop within the Church. There have been many before but they have not been honest or open.”
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, head of South Africa’s Anglican church, also struck a conciliatory note, arguing that each province of the Anglican church was autonomous.
“So, we would like to congratulate Gene Robinson and pray for him,” he said.
Keeping his global flock together is a daunting task for archbishop Williams, who cannot, like the Catholic pontiff, use such forceful weapons as excommunication.
Robinson’s appointment has forced him into a delicate balancing act. “The effects of this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans particularly in the non-western world, have to be confronted with honesty,” he said.