(Vatican Radio) Leaders of the Anglican Communion are winding up a meeting in Canterbury on Friday after agreeing to temporary restrictions on the Episcopal Church in the United States for its position on same-sex marriage.
Responding to the decision, the head of the Vatican's Council for ecumenical relations says he is "grateful" the bishops have excluded any more permanent divisions which could hinder the search for reconciliation between the two Churches .
Philippa Hitchen takes a closer look:
At a press conference ahead of the official conclusion of the meeting on Saturday, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reaffirmed the unanimous commitment of all the Anglican leaders to uphold the unity of the worldwide Communion, which numbers around 85 million members in 165 countries.
But in a communique the Primates note that recent developments in the Episcopal Church regarding the recognition of same-sex relationships represents “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage”.
The unilateral decision by the Americans, the statement says, has created great pain and mistrust among the different parts of the Communion. Therefore the bishops have agreed that, for a period of three years, the Episcopal Church should no longer represent the Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies. While it continues to participate in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, it will not take part in decision making on issues of doctrine or polity.
The three-page communique also reiterates the bishops' condemnation of homophobia and rejects the criminalisation of homosexuals.
Paul Handley, editor of the Church of England weekly paper, the Church Times, explains why this issue has become such a source of conflict within the Anglican world
“What the African Churches are saying, in particular, is that it has soured the relationship between their Church and their community…..
The head of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry said the sanctions will be painful for many Americans, whose move to be what he called “a more inclusive Church” was based not on “a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture” but rather on the commitment to be a house of prayer where “all are truly welcome”.
Here in Rome, the head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, said he was grateful the bishops have opted for temporary sanctions, rather than any more permanent divisions which could hinder the search for reconciliation between the two Churches
“We are working for unity and not for divisions….but we continue our dialogue and this year we have also a beautiful opportunity (to mark) 50 years since the first official visit of an Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome….”
Later this year the Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to travel to Rome to meet with Pope Francis and mark together this important anniversary. In the meantime the Anglican leaders have asked Archbishop Welby to appoint a Task Force to continue this week’s conversation with the ambitious goal of restoring relationships and rebuilding trust among the still deeply divided parts of the global Communion.