A majority of dioceses in the Church of England have voted down the proposed Anglican Covenant, a set of principles intended to bind the Anglican Communion provinces despite theological differences and cultural disputes.
The six diocesan synods meeting and voting on the covenant this past weekend brought the current figures to 23 against and 15 in favour, out of a total of 44 dioceses throughout the Church of England, Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports.
The Rev Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, said that "to clarify the current situation across the Anglican Communion," seven out of 38 provinces have "approved, or subscribed" to the covenant, with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa having adopted the document pending ratification at its next synod meeting later this year.
The seven provinces, Kearon said, are the Anglican churches of Ireland, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, Southern Cone of America, and the West Indies.
Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church in the Philippines has rejected the covenant and Maori action in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia last November means that it will be voted down when it comes before the province's General Synod in July 2012.
In the US-based Episcopal Church, the Executive Council agreed at its October 2011 meeting to submit a resolution to the 2012 General Convention in July that would have it state that the church is "unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form," according to the ENS report.
The Covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the communion and its 38 autonomous provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues.
The report came in the wake of the 2003 election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire, a development that caused some provinces to declare broken or impaired communion with the Episcopal Church.
Some Episcopalians and Anglicans have raised concerns about the covenant being used as an instrument of control, questioning in particular its section 4, which outlines a method for resolving disputes in the communion. Some critics have warned that adopting the covenant could result in a two-tier communion.
But many conservative Anglicans also have rejected the covenant, saying that it does not go far enough to bring into line provinces that have taken steps towards the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]