In a letter sent Monday to Anglican archbishops, Carey--spiritual head of the Church of England--called for restraint and reflection following last month's decision by the Diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia, to create a ritual to bless homosexual unions. "Precisely because there are strong views on all sides of this issue, I believe that departure from the main thrust of Anglican moral tradition is sufficiently significant for individual dioceses not to act alone in relation to it," Carey wrote.
The Church of England is the "mother church" of the Anglican Communion, which groups autonomous churches in more than 160 countries. The archbishop does not rule the world's Anglicans but maintains the unity of the Communion.
Representatives of 80 Anglican parishes in the Canadian diocese voted last month officially to bless same-sex unions. The blessing would not have legal implications or resemble a marriage ceremony, but opponents say it would amount to the same thing. Under Anglican tradition, marriage is a sacrament reserved for heterosexual couples. Carey has declared homosexual relationships "incompatible" with the Bible.
Thirteen Canadian Anglican bishops issued a statement saying they believed the New Westminster decision was in conflict with the "moral teaching of the holy scripture and the tradition of the universal church." The diocese had voted twice before for same-sex marriages, but the region's bishop, Michael Ingham, overruled the decisions because he felt the winning margin was too narrow.
In a statement, Carey--who retires in October--said he had asked Ingham to clarify the status and implications of the decision, including safeguards for clergy who did not wish to give the blessing. He asked fellow bishops not to intervene, for fear of aggravating a volatile situation.
In 1998 the Lambeth Conference--a gathering of Anglican primates from around the world--ruled that matters of moral teaching and church order and discipline were beyond the jurisdiction of a single diocese.