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Jefferts Schori
vetoes election of bishop in conservative Episcopal

Jefferts Schori
vetoes election of bishop in conservative Episcopal

Episcopal presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has taken the highly unusual step of invalidating the election of a bishop in the tradition-minded Diocese of South Carolina, which has rejected her authority because of her liberal theological outlook. The elevation of the Very Reverend Mark Lawrence had become a flash point in the denomination's struggle over whether parishioners with conflicting views of the Bible on gays and other issues could stay in the same denomination. The last time the Episcopal Church threw out a bishop's election was more than seven decades ago.

Jefferts Schori made the decision Thursday on the eve of a key private meeting in Texas involving all Episcopal bishops. The church leaders must decide by September 30 whether to meet demands from Anglican archbishops to roll back their support for gays or lose their place as the U.S. wing of the world Anglican family.

In the South Carolina case, Jefferts Schori concluded that several Episcopal dioceses had failed to submit proper written consent for the election as required by church law, according to the Reverend J. Haden McCormick, head of the committee that administers the South Carolina diocese.

A majority of Episcopal dioceses must approve an election before a bishop can be consecrated and installed. The diocese said it had received 57 diocesan consents, one more than required. But McCormick said in a statement that some dioceses wrongly "thought that electronic permission was sufficient as had been their past accepted practice."

McCormick called it a "tragic outcome" that he hoped would be "a wake-up call" about conditions in the church. Theological conservatives are a minority within the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church. A national spokesman for the denomination was traveling to the Texas assembly Thursday night and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lawrence, a priest in the conservative Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno, Calif., was elected on the first ballot last September as South Carolina bishop.

The San Joaquin diocese has also rejected Jefferts Schori's authority, partly because it opposes the ordination of women. In December the diocese took the first step toward a formal break with the denomination. Some Episcopalians believed Lawrence planned to follow suit in South Carolina. He vehemently denied it.

"That was mud that got thrown at me, and in some people's mind that stuck," Lawrence said.

Lawrence will remain pastor at St. Paul's Episcopal Parish in Bakersfield, Calif.

Officials of the South Carolina diocese, which includes 75 parishes in the lower and eastern part of the state, plan to meet within the next couple of weeks to decide their next step.

Acting Bishop Edward Salmon, who is retiring from the South Carolina post, will remain until a new bishop is consecrated. (Rachel Zoll, AP)

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