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Ecumenical head regrets Anglican bishop's absence from Pell installation

National Council of Churches Secretary-General Rev David Gill fears Archbishop George Pell's appointment as Archbishop of Sydney could signal a new era of religious division in Sydney.

He was commenting on the absence of Bishop Paul Barnett, the acting administrator of the Sydney Anglican diocese, from last Thursday's installation of Archbishop George Pell at the city's St Mary's Cathedral.

"I'm a bit surprised," Mr Gill said. "It did seem a bit like a reversion to the bad old days."

He referred to the bitter sectarianism of the previous century, where Catholic and Protestant zealots would even stand outside each other's weddings and jeer the bride and groom.

"That's still pretty recent history," Mr Gill said. "In this city you have to be very sensitive, given the fact that inter-denominational relations used to be pretty terrible. Anything that could be construed as reviving that is very damaging."

Bishop Barnett told the Sun-Herald he was "unable to attend".

A church spokesman said: "We understood that it was a personal invitation to Bishop Barnett and [he] did not feel free to hand it on to another representative of the Anglican Church."

But other guests unable to be there sent envoys, including Premier Bob Carr, who sent Treasurer Michael Egan. The absence of an official Anglican representative contrasted sharply with the presence of every other major church leader.

But Catholic Church spokesman Fr Brian Lucas said Dr Barnett had written to Archbishop Pell "wishing him well", although his letter did not explain why Dr Barnett would miss the installation at St Mary's Cathedral.

"If the reasons relate to a conscientiously held belief, then we will respect that," Father Lucas said. "There will be no ill will as a consequence."