The leaking of the latest report of the Joint Anglican-Catholic Commission, co-chaired by Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop, John Bathersby, must surely have been timed to become public while the crucial meeting of Anglican Primates in Tanzania was drawing to a close – if not, then it is one of the great coincidences of our time.

One of the obvious stumbling blocks to closer relations between the Anglican and Catholic churches (let alone unity) is the action of the US Episcopal Church (a member of the Anglican Communion) in blessing same s-x unions and consecrating openly gay bishops.

The Anglican communion has been on the brink of a major split for some time. The disunity was on show at the Primates’ meeting when several Archbishops, mainly from the growing African church, refused to take communion with the US Primate, Katharine Jefferts Schori, because of her open support for gay bishop Gene Robinson in particular.

In their communiqué released yesterday, the Primates decided to give the US Church until 30 September to halt the “practices”. If it does not do so, then its suspension from the worldwide Anglican communion is likely.

There is absolutely no chance the Joint Commission will achieve the unity it aims for while sections of the Anglican communion endorse same sex unions and openly gay clergy.

But it is not only Anglican-Catholic dialogue that is at risk. The African church, and conservative dioceses such as Sydney, are rapidly losing patience with the US church, and even with “liberal” dioceses in Australia, New Zealand and England.

That is why the Primates’ meeting has taken a relatively hard line.

Unity between the Anglican and Catholic churches won’t happen in our time even if the Episcopal church is cut adrift.

But the churches are working much more closely than appears on the surface. In most dioceses in Australia there are regular joint clergy meetings, joint activities between Anglican and Catholic parishes, and in some bush dioceses, such as Toowoomba, clergy sharing takes place. That would have been unheard of even a decade ago.

For the Anglican church in Australia, a merger, or some form of alliance, is much more likely with either the Lutheran or Uniting Churches. Dialogue between these churches on areas of common ground is far more advanced than that with the Catholic church.

But the immediate challenge for the Anglican Church in Australia will be its general synod in Canberra later this year. That is when the unity of the church over issues such as women bishops will be put to the test… and there is no guarantee it will survive intact.