Archbishop of Canterbury calls Anglican leaders to vital meeting as he struggles with splits

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LONDON — The Archbishop of Canterbury has summoned Anglican leaders from throughout the world for a vital meeting next year as he struggles to keep the global fellowship together despite severe internal splits.

Justin Welby announced on his website Wednesday that he had summoned all 37 Primates to a special meeting to be held in Canterbury from Jan. 11 to Jan. 16.

Welby said the meeting would deal with a number of issues including a review of the structure of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

He implied there would be more room for differences and doctrinal conflicts between various Anglican communities.

"A 21st-century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together," Welby said.

Welby said there is no "Anglican Pope" with centralized power to set doctrine. "Our authority as a church is dispersed," he said.

He used his Twitter account to emphasize, however, that he does not plan to call for the breakup of the Anglican Communion.

"The agenda will be set by common agreement with all Primates encouraged to send in contributions," he said. "It is likely to include the issues of religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality."

The Anglican Communion is a global fellowship with more than 80 million members in churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.

The fellowship has been splintering for years between liberals and conservatives over how to interpret the Bible.

The rift broke wide open in 2003 when the U.S. Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the United States, elected the first openly gay Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is now retired.

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