UK

Half of the Church of England's dioceses reject unity covenant

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
Image caption Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the covenant was about accountability

The Church of England cannot sign up to a plan aimed at preventing the global Anglican Church from splitting up after half its 44 dioceses voted against it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury backed theAnglican Covenantin a bid to ensure divisive issues - such as gay bishops - did not cause the Communion to split.

A vote by the diocesan synod of Lincoln meant 22 dioceses had opposed the plan.

The covenant had already been rejected by conservative global Church leaders, whom it was intended to placate.

Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had saidthe covenant was about Churches being "accountable to each other in the Communion".

He said the agreement would not give anybody the power to do anything but recommend courses of action.

But critics say the covenant could undermine the traditional independence of the Churches, which together have more than 80 million members.

The idea of a covenant grew out of fears that disagreements over the gay issue between different provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion would lead to irreconcilable splits in the Church.

The arguments centred on the appointment of bishops in non-celibate gay relationships, and the blessing of same-sex unions, in Anglican churches in the US and Canada.

Some provinces in Africa, Latin America and Asia vehemently condemned these developments.

Breakaway churches

Provinces critical of the actions of the North American churches switched allegiance to the breakaway Anglican body known as Gafcon (from the Global Anglican Future conference in 2008).

They also backed the foundation of breakaway churches in North America, an action which worsened divisions in the worldwide Church, and was itself criticised by the Anglican Communion.

The covenant would have bound Anglican Churches worldwide to respect each other's autonomy, and to "spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God".

It provides for the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion's Consultative Council to consider whether an action by one Anglican province complies with Anglican teaching if other Churches disagree with it.

Under the covenant the Standing Committee could request a Church to defer a controversial action, and having consulted other ruling bodies within the Anglican Communion, may declare that an action would be "incompatible with the Covenant".

The Church of England General Synod backed the covenant in November 2010, despite the misgivings of many liberals within the Church, and referred it to the dioceses.

But the covenant received a decisive setback immediately afterwards when it was rejected by the Gafcon Primates' Council - the very Church leaders that it was intended to placate.

The Gafcon leaders said: "While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate."

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