Anglican leaders endorse Episcopal splinter group

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February 10 2004 1:00 AM ET

Leaders of Anglican churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America joined Friday to endorse a new protest group that is trying to unite Episcopalians in the United States opposed to gay clergy. The statement came from the top officials of 13 denominations, which together claim more than half of the 77 million
Anglicans worldwide. Their message spurns the leaders and policies of the Episcopal Church, which is the U.S. branch of the international Anglican Communion. The action gives the new U.S. conservative organization--the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes--claim to religious legitimacy as it seeks to gain supporters. It also demonstrates the severe division in world Anglicanism caused by the Episcopal Church's consecration of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson last November.

An emergency commission on the global split holds its first meeting starting on Monday in London.
Daniel England, spokesman for Episcopal Church headquarters, said that "there's nothing new here" except that these primates "have jumped the gun" on the commission's work, "which is unfortunate. It seems a bit premature." The protest is highly unlikely to change the Episcopal Church's acceptance of Robinson or its practice of letting each diocese decide whether to approve gay clergy or same-sex blessings. Each branch of the Anglican Communion operates independently. The primates extended recognition to the network, a group established January 20 by delegates from 12 of the 107 Episcopal dioceses and from several local congregations. Each diocese must take further action to affiliate; to date, four have done so. The primates' statement read, "We offer our support and the full weight of our ministries and offices" to the bishops, priests, and parishioners who are forming the network. "We regard this network as a hopeful sign of a faithful Anglican future in North America. We invite those who are committed to the preservation of historic biblical faith and order to join that work."

The network's leader, Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan, called the statement "a clear sign that the Anglican realignment in North America is moving forward," offering hope to those "devastated and disenfranchised" by Episcopal Church actions. According to the primates, the Episcopal Church took a "rebellious and erroneous" action by elevating Robinson--who has been living with a male partner for well over a decade--to bishop of New Hampshire. The group said the Episcopal position is a "direct repudiation of the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures," and it separates the Episcopalians from the rest of the world's Anglicans.

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