LONDON -- The leader of the world's feuding Anglicans suggested yesterday that the divided fellowship of churches could stay together under a system in which members with nontraditional views on issues like gay clergy accepted a lesser role in the group.
``Some actions -- and sacramental actions in particular -- just do have the effect of putting a church outside or even across the central stream of the life they have shared with other churches," Archbishop Rowan Williams wrote to the Anglican Communion's 38 leaders, called primates.
His proposal could eventually compel the US Episcopal Church and other Anglican provinces to decide whether to maintain full membership in the Anglican Communion by adhering to the views of a majority of its leaders, or to accept a lower-level status.
Most Anglican leaders believe gay relationships violate Scripture, though that's the minority opinion in the American church.
Williams's letter was billed as a ``reflection" on where the Anglican Communion stood following last week's General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the US branch of Anglicanism. Episcopalians brought Anglican differences over sexuality to a crisis point in 2003 by elevating V. Gene Robinson, who has a male partner, to be bishop of New Hampshire.
Rejecting demands from conservative Anglicans that they elect no more gay bishops, Episcopalians voted to call for ``restraint." And in a communion where women bishops are the exception, Episcopalians ruffled some Anglicans by electing Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays, as their first female presiding bishop.
Williams suggested a two-tiered model of full-member churches that would ``limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness" and other ``churches in association" which would have no restrictions on actions such as ordaining gays but would have ``no direct part in the decision-making" of the communion.
``There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment," Williams said. ``Neither the liberal nor the conservative can simply appeal to a historic identity that doesn't correspond with where we now are."
Williams said the same two-tiered model could work within national churches, including the Episcopal Church where some parishes are in open revolt against their liberal leaders. The Anglican Communion Network, which represents 10 US conservative dioceses and more than 900 parishes within the Episcopal Church, is deciding whether to break from the denomination.
One of the largest Episcopal churches, Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, Texas, said Monday that it will leave the denomination because it opposes the national direction of the church.
Outgoing Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold cautioned that Williams's statement was complex and that it should not be read as an ultimatum to the Episcopal Church.
And Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said at the Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, that developing such a structure could take years.