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As Canada's Anglican Church prepares for its historic - and possibly schismatic - decision on blessing homosexual unions, six of its most senior clerics Thursday called for a yes vote that would show "justice, compassion and hope for all God's people."

The declaration from the half-dozen retired archbishops from across the country reveals a sharp division in the church's hierarchy.

While the archbishops said that blessing the unions of same-sex couples does not touch on the church's "core doctrine," last month the national House of Bishops issued a pastoral statement saying that the "doctrine and discipline of our church does not clearly permit [same-sex blessings]"

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The vote will be taken at the church's general synod, or parliament, meeting next week in Winnipeg.

The archbishops' statement is signed by John Bothwell, Terence Finlay and Percy O'Driscoll, all former metropolitans, or chief bishops, of Ontario; David Crawley and David Somerville, former metropolitans of British Columbia; and Arthur Peters, former metropolitan of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

It says: "We urge the members of general synod to vote in favour of affirming the blessing of faithful, committed, same-gender unions and to agree that dioceses may decide, by appropriate processes, how they will act in this matter.

"We have studied, reported [on]and discussed the place of gay men and lesbians in the church for 25 years …

"We are deeply concerned that ongoing study … will only continue to draw us away from issues which are gradually destroying God's creation - child poverty, racism, global warming, economic injustice, concern for our aboriginal brothers and sisters, and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor."

Some of the most adamant opponents of same-sex blessings are aboriginal bishops.

They are reported to have blocked wording in the House of Bishops' pastoral statement that would have assured Anglicans that they would not be denied communion or confirmation - formal membership in the church - for being in a homosexual relationship, and that the children of homosexual parents would not be denied baptism.

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Instead, the statement says, somewhat threateningly: "We certainly hope no child is denied baptism solely on the basis of the sexual orientation, or the marital status, of the parents. … We hope no baptized Christian will be denied communion or confirmation because of being in a committed homosexual relationship or because of their marital status."

A yes vote in Winnipeg would put the Canadian church at odds with most of the 77-million-member world Anglican Communion, Christianity's third-largest denomination, after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Anglican leaders in Africa, Asia and Central and South America have talked of excluding constituent churches that extend recognition to same-sex couples or approve the appointment of bishops in open homosexual relationships.

A no vote by Canadian Anglicans, on the other hand, would isolate the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, the Episcopal Church. It alone to date has authorized a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions and approved the appointment of Gene Robinson, a divorced priest living with a man, as bishop of New Hampshire.

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