Archbishop backs two-track Church to heal divisions By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent (Filed: 19/05/2006)
An audacious plan to save the worldwide Anglican Church by allowing it to divide into two tracks, one fast and the other slow, is being backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
The proposals, which have parallels with the idea of a two-speed European Union, could permit liberals from North America to push ahead with divisive reforms such as homosexual bishops without destroying the Church.
But they could also allow conservatives from Africa and Asia to form an influential inner core that would edge out the liberals from positions of power and reduce them to a second-class status.
The blueprint, which has been seen by The Daily Telegraph, was drawn up by senior advisers and approved by Dr Williams and Church leaders at a private meeting in March.
It is expected to form the basis of a "covenant" aimed at averting future crises over issues such as homosexuality, which has brought the 77 million-strong worldwide Church to the brink of schism.
Dr Williams hopes that it may help to dilute some of the acrimony and distrust that has grown up between the rival factions in the Church.
The idea will, however, be greeted with huge suspicion by liberals who will fear that it could be used to marginalise them and hand control to the conservative majority.
Conservatives, meanwhile, may see the plans as an attempt to buy their compliance at a time when they are demanding the expulsion of the liberal American Church for consecrating Anglicanism's first openly homosexual bishop.
Tensions are rising in the run-up to a crucial meeting next month of the United States Church's general convention, its equivalent of the General Synod, at which it will come under huge pressure to "repent".
Under Dr Williams's plan, all Anglican provinces - the 38 autonomous Churches that make up the worldwide Communion - will be asked to sign the covenant, an agreement that will prevent them from acting unilaterally over contentious issues.
The covenant would effectively be the Anglican Communion's first constitution, a notion strongly resisted by liberals who dislike the idea of centralised power or of the Archbishop of Canterbury becoming an Anglican pope.
Those who refuse to sign up because they want to retain their freedom - possibly up to a third of the provinces -would not necessarily be seen as less Anglican, but they could find themselves pushed to the fringes.
The document develops the Windsor Report, which was commissioned by Dr Williams and published in 2004, a year after the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.
It was adopted by the joint standing committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, two of the Communion's ruling bodies, at a meeting in London. A 10-strong group will be appointed by Dr Williams to flesh out the proposals before they are debated at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.