OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Anglican bishops sidestepped a request from the worldwide Anglican Communion to stop blessing gay marriages for now, despite warnings that failure to do so would imperil Anglican unity.
The bishops issued a statement on Friday saying "a large majority" of them could affirm "a continued commitment to the greatest extent possible" to a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions until the Canadian church's general synod in 2010.
But the statement did not commit the entire Anglican Church of Canada to agreeing to the request made in August by the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of global Anglican leaders.
That conference had asked for moratoriums on same-sex blessings, the ordination of gay bishops and on conservative bishops making cross-border interventions in other countries.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the global Anglican church, had warned that the 80-million-member communion would be in grave peril if the request for moratoriums were ignored.
Lambeth's request on gay bishops was primarily addressed at the Episcopal Church of the United States, which has a gay bishop in New Hampshire.
The request on same-sex blessings was aimed at both the U.S. and Canadian churches, while the request on cross-border interventions was aimed at Latin American and African bishops.
The British Columbian diocese of New Westminster caused an outcry among conservative Anglicans around the world in 2003 when it started authorizing some parishes to bless gay unions.
The decision-making synods in four more Canadian dioceses have asked their bishops in the past year to do the same. The bishop of Montreal said last week that he would start drafting liturgy for blessing same-sex marriages, and the bishop of Ottawa said last week he intended to authorize one parish to bless gay marriages.
Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has legalized gay marriage, although churches are not compelled to perform gay weddings.
Some congregations have left the Anglican Church of Canada because of its tolerance in some regions toward gay marriages, and put themselves under the care of Anglican churches in Latin America or Africa.