The General Synod, the Church of England's governing body, has voted in favour of the Anglican Covenant - but influential conservative leaders have firmly rejected it.
The resulting situation was described by a Synod observer last night as one of "confusion", since the Covenant, which would not come into effect until 2012 and has been criticised for imposing an authoritarian structure to appease hardliners, has now been described as "fatally flawed" by the very people it was designed to please.
In a statement apparently written early in October, but only released as the Synod of the Anglican Communion's 'mother church' is meeting, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) Primates' Council said they no longer backed the Covenant.
"While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned, we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate," the council said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition (http://noanglicancovenant.org/) of progressives have been arguing robustly that the proposed arrangements, which have the personal approval of Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, would lead to a 'two-tier' Communion.
NACC declare: "We believe that this covenant is ill-conceived. In response to the reputed 'crisis' in the Communion, drafters of the covenant have favoured coercion over the hard work of reconciliation. The covenant seeks to narrow the range of acceptable belief within Anglicanism and to prevent further development of Anglican thought. Rather than bringing peace to the Communion, we predict that the covenant text itself could become the cause of future bickering and that its centralised dispute-resolution mechanisms could beget interminable quarrels and resentments."
The Covenant was first proposed in 2004, following tensions crystallised by the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, who is gay and partnered, in the Episcopal Church Diocese of New Hampshire in the USA.
Meanwhile, the 24 November General Synod decision - which was passed by synod's three houses of bishops, clergy and laity - recommends that the church should consider a draft Act of Synod that "solemnly covenants with the other churches which enter into and adopt it in making the affirmations and commitments that it contains."
The bishops voted 39 for, none against, with one abstention; the clergy voted 145 for, 32 against, with 11 abstentions; and the laity voted 147 for, 25 against, with eight abstentions.
The draft act will now be sent to the church's dioceses for consideration before returning to General Synod.
"This just proves how ineffectual it is going to be ... it won't keep us together," Giles Fraser, Canon at London's St Paul's Cathedral, and president of Inclusive Church which opposes the Covenant, told Reuters. "All the archbishop's hard work in getting it through and using up one of his lives, seems rather pointless."