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BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Before Tony Blair left for Italy, he heard more religious opposition to war. The Prime Minister met for nearly an hour with a delegation of church leaders from the US and Great Britain. They challenged Blair’s claim that a moral case can be made for declaring war on Iraq. Meanwhile, in a rare joint statement, the leaders of Britain’s two largest churches called the prospect of war quote “deeply disturbing.” The new Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor urged all parties in the crisis to seek peace through the United Nations.
Archbishop Williams will be formally enthroned this coming week in Britain. He took over in December as head of the more than 70 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. In the U.S., that means the Episcopal Church. Williams has already made headlines by opposing the British government’s stance on Iraq and for his personal support of homosexual unions. Deryl Davis has our report.
DERYL DAVIS: The enthronement of an Archbishop of Canterbury is a time-honored English tradition. Only this archbishop — the 104th — is Welsh, not English; a poet as well as a theologian; a man of traditional theology and some liberal social views. Rowan Williams isn’t easy to categorize.
Bishop FRANK GRISWOLD (Presiding Bishop, U.S. Episcopal Church): He is first of all a scholar; he’s also very much a person of prayer; and he also is someone connected to the social issues of the day.
DAVIS: Among them, homosexuality and the role of women, two issues which threaten the unity of the Anglican Communion, which Williams now leads. Father David Moyer is president of Forward in Faith, North America, a conservative Anglican group opposed to female and gay clergy.
Father DAVID MOYER (President, Forward in Faith, North America): Rowan Williams comes out on a very liberal, revisionist side of those issues, where I and the people I work with maintain an orthodox position, what the Church has always taught and believed through the centuries.
DAVIS: Williams has acknowledged ordaining a practicing homosexual to the priesthood and indicated his personal support for the creation of female bishops. This has troubled some evangelical groups in England and could put Williams in conflict with Anglican leaders in the Third World, who represent more than half the entire Communion. Some of them have raised serious concerns about the more liberal views of their western counterparts.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold says Williams will honor the traditional policies of the Church of England.
Bishop GRISWOLD: Rowan has his own personal views and is not shy about expressing them, but Rowan has also said very clearly, and it’s certainly something I deal with in this country, Rowan has said, “I am someone who is called to be shepherd to the entire community.”
DAVIS: Father Moyer agrees. Last year, Williams supported him in a conflict with his own American bishop — this despite their ideological differences.
Father MOYER: What I’m confident about is that Dr. Williams has the pastoral and theological integrity to honor those who are in — who have a different position than he does.
DAVIS: Williams has already generated controversy since taking office in December. He has strongly criticized plans for war against Iraq and decried what he sees as the destructive effects of global commercialism.
Professor JOHN MILBANK (University of Virginia): He’s a saint and he’s a politician. He reaches back to a long line of high Church archbishops who are very, very concerned with social and political issues.
DAVIS: Professor John Milbank studied with Williams at Cambridge. He suggests that a decades-long decline in membership of the Church of England will be a first-order concern for the new archbishop.
Prof. MILBANK: It’s an absolutely massive problem. And he’s already indicated that, I think, one of the primary tasks is to recapture people’s imagination for Christianity.
DAVIS: Bishop Griswold believes Williams has the sensitivity to do that for people across the Anglican Communion.
Bishop GRISWOLD: Whatever side of the divide we fall on, we’re all going to be surprised and led to new places and new understandings by this immensely prayerful and articulate exponent of the Christian faith.
DAVIS: Rowan Williams will be formally enthroned on Thursday. I’m Deryl Davis reporting.