The Anglican Consultative Council, one of three bodies that oversees the Anglican community, adopted a resolution that asks dioceses and individual bishops not to unilaterally take actions that would strain the Anglican Communion - the global community's official name - without consulting higher authorities.
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, the Anglicans' spiritual leader and council president, who proposed the resolution, warned the council meeting in Hong Kong "not to go it alone.'' The council has 70 representatives from 38 regions around the world.
The measure, passed with one abstention and no opposition, stems from recent incidents testing the church's tolerance on issues of sexuality and an Australian diocese's moves to allow laypeople to hold communion.
In June, Bishop Michael Ingham of the Canadian diocese of New Westminster agreed to bless same-sex unions. An East Vancouver church under his jurisdiction is harboring three Ugandan homosexuals escaping persecution in their home country. In September, Philadelphia Bishop Charles Bennison deposed Rev. David Moyer after Moyer publicly opposed his approval of same-sex unions, gay and female priests.
The Diocese of Sydney sparked an uproar in 1999 when its legislative body proposed letting laypeople administer communion. Ingham, who represents the Anglican Church of Canada at the meeting, voted for Carey's measure but said he preferred a version of the resolution that allowed more local autonomy. "Theologically I disagree with the word 'autonomy.' Autonomy means separate churches,'' Carey, who steps down in October, replied.
A Roman Catholic representative offered the Vatican's seal of approval. "The Catholic Church smiles on this resolution,'' said the Rev. Don Bolen. The sole abstention came from Bishop Catherine Roskam of New York.
The resolution, which stopped short of imposing specific views on local churches, marks the latest effort by Anglican leaders to unite a community increasingly divided on the issue of sexuality.
The 1998 Lambeth Conference, another Anglican international governing body, stated its strong opposition against gay clergy and blessing same-sex couples. But the Canadian Anglican Church and the U.S. Anglican branch, known as the Episcopal Church, still allows local churches to make up their on minds on same-sex unions.
In 2000 and 2001, the archbishops of Rwanda and Southeast Asia consecrated U.S. bishops, forming the "Anglican Mission in America'' for American churches that reject the liberal views of the Episcopal church.
The current Anglican global population is 77 million, about half of which are Africans, known to be mostly conservative.
The Hong Kong resolution is non-binding, "but they are considered seriously and often adopted by local parishes and dioceses, " said Canon James Rosenthal, a spokesman for the Anglican Communion. "There is a conviction within the Communion what is said at these meetings is important as we try to be united in our Christian witness,'' he said.
The Archbishop of Wales Rowan Williams, Carey's successor, has ordained a gay priest but said he would defer to the Anglican consensus. Williams will be enthroned as the new Archbishop of Canterbury on Feb. 27, 2003.