Nigeria's Anglican church has deleted all references to the mother church in Britain from its constitution, deepening a rift over homosexuality but stopping short of a feared schism.

The Nigeria and Ugandan Anglican churches broke ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church (search) over its 2003 consecration of a gay bishop living with a partner. A new dispute over same-sex unions in England has deepened divisions.

On Tuesday, a statement on the Nigerian church's Web site said that "all former references to 'communion with the see of Canterbury' were deleted" at a meeting last week.

Instead, the constitution affirms ties with all churches that maintain the "faith, doctrine, sacrament and discipline of the one holy, Catholic and apostolic church."

With 17.5 million members, Nigeria's church is second only to the mother Church of England (search) among the branches in the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion (search).

Nigerian Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola (search) has emerged as a leader of Anglican conservatives around the world, taking a key role through the Global South grouping of churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America in opposing any church acceptance of homosexuality.

No one was available to comment Tuesday on behalf of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (search) or the Anglican Communion office in London about the changes in the Nigerian church's constitution.

Williams is struggling to prevent a formal break between liberal Anglicans, many of them in North America, and conservatives, who are strongest in Africa and Asia but include many North American traditionalists.

In an open letter to other Anglican leaders, Akinola said the Nigerian church changed its constitution "so that those who are bent to walk a different path may do so without us."

"We have chosen not to be yoked to them, as we prefer to exercise our freedom to remain faithful," he said.

The Nigerian church said its constitutional changes allow it to set up missions outside Nigeria and cater for churchgoers unhappy with recent theological innovations encouraging practices that Nigerians consider sinful.

That appeared to refer to the United States. Nigerians and other Africans already have arrangements with some conservative U.S. parishes whose members object to the U.S. Episcopal Church's stand on homosexual clerics. Nigeria also has established its own churches in the United States for Africans and others who do not want to join Episcopal congregations.

Relations with the Church of England worsened when Akinola slammed a July 25 announcement from its bishops that gay priests in same-sex partnerships will remain in good standing as long as they promise to follow church teaching that limits sexual relations to heterosexual marriage.

England's bishops also decided lay members registering such partnerships would not be penalized.

The English bishops' statement was a response to a new law on same-sex partnerships in Britain, which goes into effect Dec. 5.