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Episcopal bishops
unable to reach consensus on gay issues

Episcopal bishops
unable to reach consensus on gay issues

Inching toward a break with the church over homosexuality, conservative Episcopal bishops failed to win approval Wednesday for their request to stay in the denomination without answering to its national leader, who supports same-sex relationships. The proposal was the subject of a private meeting of 11 Episcopal bishops, organized at the request of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Williams is trying to keep the Episcopal Church and the world Anglican Communion unified despite deep rifts over how to interpret Bible verses on gay sex. In a joint statement, the bishops said they recognized the need to accommodate the seven dioceses that have rejected the authority of presiding bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is supportive of same-sex relationships. But they said they "were unable to come to common agreement on the way forward." They pledged to "work together until we have reached the solution God holds out for us." In a separate statement, Williams, the spiritual leader of the communion, said it was a "positive sign" that the talks occurred and that the "process at work" will continue. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the global Anglican fellowship. In 2003, the U.S. branch caused an uproar when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. This past June the divisions intensified when the Episcopal general convention elected Jefferts Schori, who will be installed November 4. The first woman elected to lead the church, Jefferts Schori is open to gay ordinations and the blessing of same-sex unions. The seven conservative dioceses at odds with the denomination are asking Williams for alternative oversight from an Anglican leader who shares their traditional views. The dioceses are Dallas; Central Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; Fresno, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Springfield, Ill.; and South Carolina. Two more dioceses--Quincy, Ill., and Albany, N.Y.--are considering a similar request. Among the bishops who participated in the three-day talks were Jefferts Schori and Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan, leader of a network of Episcopal conservatives. Williams also sent a representative, Canon Kenneth Kearon, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion. In a phone interview Duncan said that Jefferts Schori and outgoing presiding bishop Frank Griswold "genuinely wanted to do something" to help conservatives but believed they did not have the authority to do so without consulting church governing bodies first. Instead, Williams and world Anglican leaders will have to take up the proposal, Duncan said. Anglican archbishops are scheduled to meet next February in Tanzania. The seven dioceses issued a joint appeal to Williams in July, describing themselves as "threatened by a hostile" national church, which they accused of "arrogance" in their response to conservatives. The dioceses noted that many U.S. parishes that oppose ordaining gays have already broken away and joined conservative Anglican dioceses in Africa and Latin America. "There are two churches under one roof," Duncan said. Griswold said it was clear after the meeting that the church needed a "changed environment in which controversial points of view are not treated as beyond the community.... They have a place within the community to be taken seriously and respected as held by genuine people of faith." Conservatives are a minority in the 2.3 million-member U.S. church, but a split could still cause extensive damage. A break would likely prompt expensive and bitter legal fights over parishes that want to take property with them as they leave. Next week about two dozen Episcopal bishops who oppose recognition of same-sex relationships are scheduled to meet north of Houston to discuss their future within the church. Also next week, conservative Anglican archbishops from Africa and elsewhere will do the same in Rwanda. Worldwide, Williams has proposed giving Anglican churches with nontraditional views on gay clergy a lesser role in the communion under a two-tiered system meant to prevent a schism. (Rachel Zoll, AP)

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