At least seven archbishops who oppose the ordination of gay and lesbian bishops have boycotted a meeting of the world's Anglican leadership, which began in Dublin today.

The gathering, which is held every two years, takes place weeks after three Church of England bishops, and two of their wives, switched their loyalty to Rome after Pope Benedict XVI made special arrangements for receiving disaffected members of their church.

A total of 38 archbishops who lead the world-wide Anglican Communion were invited to the meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Many of those who agreed to attend gathered in the Catholic Church-owned Emmaus Retreat Centre.

But at least seven said they are staying away because of the presence of the leader of the Episcopal Church in the US, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She has angered orthodox Anglicans, particularly in developing countries, by allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian bishops.

A spokesman for the Communion said participants would be identifying, discussing and praying about the ‘big issues’ facing it and, where possible, addressing them.

He said he did not know if they would be considering Pope Benedict's establishment at New Year of a virtual diocese for Anglicans - including married clergy - who switch allegiance to Rome.

Hundreds have said they defected because they are opposed to moves to ordain women bishops.