Church leaders debate gay issue
Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire in August 2003
Anglican church leaders from around the world have begun a two-day emergency meeting over the issue of homosexuality.
The talks at Lambeth Palace were arranged by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in response to the anger caused by the election of an openly gay bishop in the US.
The confirmation of gay cleric Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire enraged many traditionalist Anglicans, particularly in countries like Nigeria.
Conservative clergy there and elsewhere have threatened to leave the worldwide church if his appointment is not overturned.
News of the meeting's outcome was not expected until late on Thursday, but Anglican leaders, known as primates, from both sides of the debate have been meeting in London all week to lobby for support.
'Policy change by stealth'
There is still fallout in the UK from the battle over moves to appoint an openly gay priest as bishop of Reading this summer.
The row over the nomination of Canon Jeffrey John led to him withdrawing his candidacy amid fears his appointment would damage the "unity of the church".
His decision, in July, followed a campaign by evangelicals within the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Dr Williams, who is known for his liberal views on homosexuality, was accused of seeking to promote gay clergy in order to change the church's policy by stealth.
Also contributing to tensions within the church globally is the official church blessing of gay relationships by the Vancouver diocese in Canada.
Liberal leaders want individual branches of the church to have the freedom to decide their own destiny, allowing them to put their stance in line with more reformist views among some national congregations.
But a survey commissioned by BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend programme suggested that three-quarters of primates would not allow homosexuals to become priests in their province.
Conservatives - such as Reverend Peter Akinola, of the Church of Nigeria - say there can be no compromise over homosexuality because, in their interpretation, it is clearly outlawed by the Bible.
The American Anglican Council, which represents U.S. conservatives, contends the liberals are the ones who have departed from the communion by accepting non-celibate gays.
The council's leaders will petition the primates to "guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America."
Dr Williams has readily admitted that a "messy" future is possible as the church battles to deal with issues such as gay blessings and gay clergy.
"I suspect that those who speak of new alignments and new patterns, of the weakening of territorial jurisdiction and the like, are seeing the situation pretty accurately," he told a journal earlier this year.
Speaking outside Lambeth Palace on Wednesday, The Very Rev Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark, said he hoped the meeting would allow the Archbishop some room for manoeuvre.
"If they pass any sort of rebuking or constraining resolutions they are going to make difficulties for him - and anyway they have no constitutional right to do so."
He claimed the conservative campaign within the church had been funded by a "right wing moral majority American millionaire".
A spokesman for the Anglican Communion said that with no power to alter the status of Gene Robinson, Dr Williams can only listen to the other bishops from around the world.
He said: "He is not the Pope and so he cannot just wave a magic wand and say it is going to be better."
Traditionalist leaders, many of them living side by side with conservatively minded Muslims in developing countries, insist the US church reverse its policy or be suspended.
Many think the survival of the 70 million-strong worldwide church is at stake but so far there seems little scope for agreement.