The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, has once again raised the prospect of the Anglican Church either disintegrating or breaking up into a “loose” federation.

While he naturally predicts the latter is more likely, and may have even begun, the reality is that if it escalates a formal division will only be a matter of time.

Dr Jensen told his diocese’s synod last night he had received requests from “more than one” overseas Anglican/Episcopal church to “join” the Sydney Diocese.

Now it remains to be seen whether these requests are from individual clergy or parishes only, or larger church units. But Dr Jensen rather cleverly used the approaches to highlight his developing campaign to make the Anglican Church a federation of churches held loosely together with the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury being significantly reduced.

There is no way Dr Jensen or his supporters here and overseas want to be seen to be responsible for the church formally splitting. He is much too smart an operator for that.

And the issue that has caused the overseas churches to approach Sydney diocese about joining – the attitude towards gay clergy – is not really the number one issue for Dr Jensen.

The real cause of growing divisions within the church, especially in Australia, is the push to enable women priests to be made bishops.

While Anglican churches in New Zealand and the United States have women bishops, the ability of any Australian diocese to elect a woman as bishop is unclear.

Sydney and like-minded dioceses will take an aggressive attitude towards any diocese that makes a woman as bishop if the right to do so is clarified, or if next year’s national general synod gives it the green light. Sydney won’t even ordain women as priests, let alone bishops.

The gay clergy issue is divisive, but it will be the consecration of women as bishops that will take the church in Australia much closer to a complete division.

What Dr Jensen is doing is positioning Australia’s largest, and wealthiest, diocese to be the focus point for the conservatives in either a loose federation or a church that ends up formally splitting. Last night’s comment was just another step in that direction.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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