SAN FRANCISCO -- The Archbishop of Canterbury said last week that the 28 regional and national churches that make up the Anglican communion are moving toward approval of the ordination of women clerics, but that it may not happen without a fight.

"Until there is a decisive, ecumenical, Christian answer to this question, there will inevitably be the risk of broken, or at least impaired, communion between the provinces of the {Anglican} Communion, where some have advanced while others have held back," the Most Rev. Robert Runcie said in remarks prepared for delivery at a church conference here.

"If a thing is of God it will flourish," he said. "If not, it will eventually wither. In the meantime we have to endure the pain felt by protagonists and antagonists alike."

Runcie said at a news conference that the ordination of women is "a particular and quite fundamental change in the character of the Episcopal ministry, which I believe is coming upon the {Anglican} church in general."

Runcie said that a mutual "respect for those who do {ordain women} and a respect for those who do not" has kept the peace within the Anglican camp so far.

He said unity talks with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, neither of which ordains women, have been "remarkably constructive" despite the disagreement over women priests.

"They look upon our having ordained women to the ministry as having changed the rules of the game after the game had started, to put it very crudely and perhaps superficially," he said.

"But even in the case of the Orthodox, that hasn't, strangely enough, halted the momentum of the talks," he said.

He added that representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and several Middle Eastern Orthodox groups were now taking part.