NEW YORK (AP) – Three conservative Episcopal dioceses that oppose consecrating gay bishops voted Wednesday to reject the authority of the denomination's presiding bishop but stopped short of a full break with the Episcopal Church.
In separate meetings, the dioceses of Pittsburgh, South Carolina and San Joaquin, Calif., asked the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to assign them an alternative leader.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh is home to the Anglican Communion Network, which represents 10 conservative U.S. dioceses and more than 900 parishes within the Episcopal Church that are deciding whether to split f rom the denomination.
The decision by the three dioceses came on the same day that the liberal Diocese of Newark tested the new Episcopal call for restraint on choosing gay bishops by naming a gay priest as one of four nominees to become its next leader.
The Episcopal Church and its fellow Anglicans worldwide are struggling to prevent differences over the Bible and sexuality from escalating into a permanent break.
On Tuesday, Williams said the divisions have become so deep that any member churches that support ordaining gays may have to accept a lesser role in the fellowship to prevent a schism.
The years-long debate over gay ordination reached a crisis point in 2003 when the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, elected the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Most Anglican archbishops believe gay relationships violate Scripture, and many broke ties with the U.S. church over Robinson. However, conservatives are a minority within the U.S. church. The Diocese of Pittsburgh's vote Wednesday was an attempt to strengthen its position.
Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan objects to the June 18 election of the Episcopal presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, who voted to confirm Robinson in 2003 and supports ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex relationships. She will be installed Nov. 4.
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