Archbishop of Canterbury can't rule out schism over gay clergy

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THE Anglican church was edging closer towards a split last night over the controversial issues of the ordination of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions.

United States and Canadian Anglicans have been called on to voluntarily withdraw their representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council to create space for agreement between the conservative and liberal wings of the church.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said there was a powerful will to resolve the problems in the church, but he did not rule out a future split.

Speaking after a five-day meeting of Anglican primates near Newry, Co Down, he said the willingness to keep going to resolve their problems had been impressive.

"Giving ourselves room to speak clearly to each other has got to be a positive development. It might end up in further division. We hope not. We will try to avoid it," he added.

Fears of a major fracturing in the Anglican communion surfaced after US Anglicans appointed an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.

At the same time the diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver introduced a service of blessing for same-sex couples.

Conservative Anglicans have demanded that the North Americans withdraw from the communion or repent for their actions.

Dr Williams said he had not changed his view that there was no painless solution to the church’s problems.

"Any lasting solution I think will require people to say somewhere along the line, yes, they were wrong."

The Anglican Consultative Council, which is made up of bishops, clergy and lay people, has been asked to set in motion a process to allow for further discussion ahead of the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Although the move appears to buy time to resolve the split in the 78 million-strong church, campaigners have said that it will be torn apart if it does not change its position.