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OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian Anglican bishop signaled on Monday he would defy the wishes of the global Anglican church and start drafting a ceremony for blessing homosexual marriages.
Bishop Barry Clarke said he would be following through with the wishes of the diocese of Montreal, which he heads, and set up a commission to come up with liturgy for such blessings.
In August, the decennial Lambeth Conference of global Anglican leaders asked for a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions, and Canada's bishops said on Friday a large majority of them were committed to such a moratorium.
But Clarke told Reuters he was not part of that majority, and he would be proceeding with plans he had laid out before the Canadian bishops met last week.
"I don't want to stop the journey, because I think that would be unhealthy," he said.
The Montreal synod, the diocese's decision-making body, passed a resolution a year ago asking him to grant permission to clergy to bless same-sex marriages and to authorize an appropriate liturgy.
"My intention is to honor the request of the diocese," he said.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the global Anglican church, has warned that the 80-million-member communion would be in grave peril if requests for moratoriums were ignored.
But Clarke questioned under what authority such a moratorium would come as he said the Lambeth Conference is "not a legislative body".
The battle within the Anglican church has largely pitted the more conservative branches in Africa, Latin America and Asia against the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church of the United States.
In 2003, the diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia, was the first in Canada to authorize some parishes to bless gay unions. That and the ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire spurred conservatives, led by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, to warn of the risk of schism.
The fact that the Montreal diocese, and possibly other Canadian dioceses, will be moving forward with plans to bless gay unions underlines the division.
Ottawa Bishop John Chapman told his local synod before last week's meetings of the Canadian House of Bishops that he intended to give permission to one parish to bless same-sex unions once an appropriate rite is developed.
Spokeswoman Susan Lewis said Chapman's words to the Ottawa synod remained in effect "until I hear something different".
Canada is one of the few countries in the world that have legalized gay marriage. Churches are not compelled to perform gay weddings.
Editing by Peter Galloway