LONDON (Reuters) - The Anglican Church has slapped a sanction on its liberal U.S. branch over its support for same-sex marriage in a move designed to avoid a formal schism in the world's third largest Christian denomination.
The Anglican Church, which has around 85 million members in 165 countries, has been deeply divided over issues of gender and sexuality between liberal churches in North America and Britain and their conservative counterparts, especially in Africa.
Following four days of closed-door talks led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, its spiritual leader, the Church said its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, would be barred from decision-making on issues of doctrine and strategy.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry said the decision would "bring real pain" but that he would remain "committed to 'walking together' with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family".
In a statement that upholds traditional Christian teaching, the Church said its U.S. branch would not speak for Anglicans on interfaith bodies due to its "fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage".
"The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching," it said.
However, the Episcopal Church will remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
As well as gay marriage, the other areas of disagreement within the church include the ordination of women and of openly gay men as priests and bishops by the more liberal churches, which conservatives in Africa regard as contrary to scripture and morally wrong.
These divisions broke out into open acrimony after the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated openly gay Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop in 2003, and Anglicans have been facing the prospect of a permanent schism ever since.
The talks began on Monday and the Archbishop of Canterbury is due to give further details later on Friday.
The Anglican Church is the world's third largest after the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.
(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Gareth Jones)