In an unprecedented move, the top-ranking bishops of the Anglican Communion (called primates) have asked the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to dismiss themselves from a key Anglican body until the next Lambeth Conference in 2008.

The primates asked the Episcopal Church to explain why it consecrated an openly gay bishop, and asked both churches to explain why they allow pastoral blessings for gay couples. They have asked that the Episcopal Church not approve more openly gay bishops without a broader consensus in the Anglican Communion, and that both churches refrain from blessing gay couples.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison of the Anglican Church of Canada suggested that his church might not withdraw its three representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets in June in Nottingham, England. The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has deferred to the church's national board, the Executive Council, which planned to hold a special meeting April 13.

The U.S. House of Bishops has imposed a moratorium on consenting to the election of any new bishops before the next General Convention. The convention meets in June 2006.

"I think the primates proposed something that would have fallen disproportionately on the backs of gay and lesbian people," Bishop Gene Robinson told CT. "I sensed no stomach in the House of Bishops to do that."

The bishops also said they would not authorize official rites for blessing gay couples—something only a General Convention can do. But some bishops said they would not forbid priests from performing such blessings.

U.S. conservatives were critical of the bishops' actions, which they said defied the primates. "The bishops' statement didn't do what the primates asked them to ...

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