A statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury endorsing the appointment of the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church may deflect worldwide attention from the controversial actions of the diocese of New Westminster.
"If anything, what it does is take the focus off us for a while," said Neal Adams, a spokesman for the diocese.
The diocese, which has long championed the right of gays and lesbians to marry, has been under fierce attack since a same-sex marriage was performed at St. Margaret's Cedar Cottage in Vancouver last month.
Church leaders in Africa, Australia and the West Indies have condemned the diocese, as fault lines spread through the church over the issues of homosexual marriages and ministers.
Yesterday, Archbishop Rowan Williams made his first public statement on the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as the assistant bishop of Reading, near London.
"I was informed that Canon Jeffrey John was regarded as a highly gifted candidate," the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a letter to bishops.
But Archbishop Williams, the president of the worldwide Anglican communion, which numbers 70 million members, was careful to add that he did not "believe that Canon John's appointment either subverts current discipline or forecloses future discussion."
His statement followed a warning by Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola of Nigeria that his 17 million members could break away over the issue of homosexuality.
Earlier this month, Archbishop Akinola severed ties with the diocese of New Westminster. On the weekend, apparently because of the appointment of Canon John, he warned of broader actions, saying: "We cannot continue to be in communion with people who have taken a step outside the biblical boundaries."
In Australia yesterday, six Anglican bishops called on church leaders around the world to join them in opposing both homosexual marriages and homosexual ministers.
"We cannot welcome into our diocese those who have abandoned the teaching of Scripture in such a flagrant manner," the six regional bishops said.
"The moment for silence is passed. . . . The point at issue is the lordship of Jesus Christ expressed through the supreme authority of Scripture," said the statement, which was released by Archbishop Peter Jensen in Sydney.
Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster acknowledged recently that the controversy has hurt the church, but said blessing same-sex unions was the right thing to do.
"What we are trying to do in this diocese is to respect minorities," he said. "For a time we will be in the spotlight of attention as a diocese, and some of us will find it quite uncomfortable. We are in the forefront of a movement of change taking place across the church, and change is never accomplished easily."
With the statement of Archbishop Williams the spotlight may now shift away from New Westminster, but the controversy shows no signs of abating.
With a report from Reuters News Agency