LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) The archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of 77 million Anglicans worldwide, has not invited two wayward bishops to a major conference next year, a move likely to stir controversy in the deeply divided communion.
Archbishop Rowan Williams has sent invitations to more than 800 Anglican bishops asking them to attend the Lambeth Conference in London in July and August 2008, but has not invited two American bishops -- Gene Robinson and Martyn Minns.
Robinson has caused division since he was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, becoming the Anglican Church's first openly gay bishop.
Minns, a deeply conservative Episcopalian, was installed last year as the head of a new Nigerian-based church branch in the United States designed as a refuge for orthodox believers. The Anglican Communion does not recognise his position.
''I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion,'' Williams wrote in his invitations, which were sent out today.
''I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this.'' It is possible that others will either not be invited or will have their invitations withdrawn before the conference takes place if anything ''untoward or unacceptable'' occurs between now and then, an Anglican spokesman said.
''There are one or two other cases where the archbishop is currently seeking further advice,'' Tim Livesey, the head of public affairs for Lambeth Palace, told reporters.
Next year's Lambeth Conference, the 14th to be held since 1867, promises to involve intense discussion on ideological and doctrinal issues that have caused serious rifts within the communion in recent years, with the African church generally becoming more conservative and other parts breaking away.
With more than 50 provinces within the communion, stretching from the islands of Melanesia in the Pacific Ocean, throughout Africa, to the United States, the church has struggled to bring its wealth of diversity under one roof.
Events such as the Lambeth Conference, which does not determine Church doctrine, are supposed to be a forum for reflection and discussion, and an opportunity to overcome internal problems.
While the non-invitation of Robinson and Minns is likely to provoke debate, particularly in the United States and Africa, Livesey said it was possible that Robinson, at least, could be allowed to come as a ''guest'' of the conference -- a minor concession that might temper criticism.
''The archbishop is currently studying that possibility,'' Livesey said.
Reuters SS GC1847