Gay Anglicans have cautiously welcomed the election of progressive Brisbane archbishop Phillip Aspinall as their church’s new national leader, at a time when a dispute over homosexuality threatens to divide Anglicans worldwide.

But they are uncertain if progress on gay issues will be made during Aspinall’s two-year term.

Aspinall beat off a challenge from conservative Sydney archbishop Peter Jensen to become Anglican primate last Saturday.

The 45-year-old Aspinall is among the youngest men ever to lead Australia’s four million Anglicans, and one gay member of the church has hailed his election as a victory for religious moderation.

Fabian LoSchiavo, a gay Anglican who served on the Sydney diocese’s ruling body in the 1970s and 1980s, welcomed Aspinall’s win with a mixture of relief and pleasure.

The appointment says the church is opting for moderation and a human approach that is more honest than the attitude in Sydney [under Archbishop Peter Jensen] which denies that gay people are part of the church, LoSchiavo told Sydney Star Observer.

But, because the Anglican primate has no power over individual dioceses, LoSchiavo forecast little progress for Anglican gay issues in Sydney.

This view was shared by Dr Greg Mossop, a member of an Anglican Church in central Sydney, who said: I don’t know whether it’s here nor there who the primate is -¦ it certainly doesn’t make much difference as far as people in Sydney are concerned.

The primate tries to speak generally for the whole of the church in Australia, which is very diverse, and it always comes out as fairly wishy-washy comments.

Aspinall, who succeeds former Perth archbishop Peter Carnley as primate, has already indicated his progressive leanings in his new role.

The day after his election, Aspinall defended the Anglican Church’s right to speak out on social issues including the federal government’s proposed workplace reforms, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

He also reiterated his support for women bishops, before British Anglicans indicated their support for the ordination of women in a vote on Monday.

And, as the international Anglican Church faced a schism over the issue of gay bishops, Aspinall last weekend called for a unity of commitment.

The US Episcopal Church’s ordination of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003 and Canadian Anglicans’ support for same-sex unions have threatened to split the international church.

In February, the North Americans were asked to withdraw for three years from a worldwide Anglican consultative council. Last month, they failed to defend their pro-gay stance at a meeting of the same consultative body.

But while the Australian church’s new primate might voice support for the North Americans in international meetings, he was likely to move carefully on gay issues at home, according to leading Anglican laywoman and church commentator Dr Muriel Porter.

Porter told the Star she expected Aspinall would take a wait-and-see approach to the issue of homosexuality in the church.

Even those who are strongly in favour [of ordaining gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions] would see that for the time being they simply just need to proceed cautiously and carefully so we don’t risk doing more damage.

But the important thing is he will represent Australia’s moderation in the international primates’ meeting, Porter said.

It’s important that given what’s coming from Africa and parts of Asia with these extremely narrow views -¦ that the mainstream voices of the First World be heard, particularly given that the North Americans have been effectively shut out.

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