CANTERBURY, England (Reuters) - The Anglican Church has slapped sanctions on its liberal U.S. branch for supporting same-sex marriage, a move that averted a formal schism in the world’s third-largest Christian denomination but left deep divisions unresolved.
The Anglican communion, which counts some 85 million members in 165 countries, has been in crisis since 2003 because of arguments over sexuality and gender between liberal churches in the West and their conservative counterparts, mostly in Africa.
Following four days of closed-door talks, the heads of the world’s 38 Anglican provinces said the liberal U.S. Episcopal Church would be barred for three years from taking part in decision-making on doctrine or governance.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry told his peers at the talks that he remained “committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family”, but lamented their decision.
“For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay and lesbian, this will bring more pain,” he told the gathering in remarks reported by an Episcopal news website.
The sanctions also prevent the U.S. church from speaking on behalf of Anglicans on interfaith or ecumenical bodies and bar it from certain committees for three years.
There were widespread fears of a schism ahead of the talks, which were convened by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of Anglicans.
One of the most outspoken conservatives, Archbishop of Uganda Stanley Ntagali, proposed at the talks that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, which is considering also approving same-sex marriage, should withdraw from communion activities until they repent.
The proposal was rejected, and Ntagali left the meeting early, although he stopped short of quitting the communion.
The slap on the wrist for the Episcopals appeared to satisfy no one, with gay and lesbian Anglicans expressing outrage while conservatives said the sanctions did not go far enough.
“Unity shown by the primates here is going to be costly because we have deep differences,” Welby told a news conference.
Referring to the treatment of gay and lesbian Anglicans, Welby apologized personally “for the hurt and pain in the past and present that the Church has caused”.
A conservative Anglican body, GAFCON, which many think could form the basis of a breakaway communion in any schism, said it doubted the effectiveness of the sanctions because the Church had so far been “unable to guard biblical truth and restore godly order”.
The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which includes many conservatives who broke away from the Episcopal Church over its approach to marriage, said the sanctions were “a good step back in the right direction” but insufficient.
“The sanctions are strong, but they are not strong enough, and to my deep disappointment, they didn’t include the Anglican Church of Canada as they should,” wrote the head of ACNA, Archbishop Foley Beach, who attended the talks.
But at Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of Anglicans where the talks took place, Welby was confronted by a group of about 40 angry gay and lesbian Anglicans from African countries outside the cathedral shortly before his news conference.
They were bearing placards with slogans such as “Anglican Archbigots, shame on you” and “Homosexuality is African, homophobia is not”.
A Nigerian gay Anglican who gave only his first name, Chijioke, said religious leaders on the continent should be focusing on issues such as bad government and poverty rather than obsessing about issues of sexual orientation.
“We have been made to feel that we are nobody. That is not what the Church should do. God created all of us,” he told Reuters just outside the cathedral.
Chris Bryant, a gay former Anglican priest who is a member of the British parliament for the opposition Labour Party, said on Twitter: “I’ve finally given up on the Anglican church today after its love-empty decision on sexuality. One day it will seem as wrong as supporting slavery.”
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are the largest Christian denominations.
Editing by Ruth Pitchford