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Episcopal panel
rejects Anglican demands of intolerance

Episcopal panel
rejects Anglican demands of intolerance

A key Episcopal Church panel defied conservatives Thursday, saying that Episcopal leaders should not cede authority to overseas Anglicans who want the church to halt its march toward full acceptance of gays.

The Episcopal Executive Council said that Anglican leaders, called primates, cannot make decisions for the Episcopal Church, which is the Anglican body in the United States.

"We question the authority of the primates to impose deadlines and demands upon any of the churches of the Anglican Communion," the council said in a statement after a meeting in Parsippany, N.J.

The worldwide Anglican Communion has moved toward the brink of splitting apart since the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003.

In February, Anglican leaders demanded that Episcopalians allow a panel--which would include Anglican conservatives from other countries--to oversee conservative Episcopal parishes in the U.S. Episcopalians also were given until September 30 to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples.

The executive council did not speak directly to the other demands in its statement Thursday but said members have struggled "to embrace people who have historically been marginalized."

"Today this struggle has come to include the place of gay and lesbian people and their vocations in the life of the church," council members wrote.

The document approved by the 38-member panel of clergy and laypeople is not the final word from the U.S. church. Episcopal bishops will give the denomination's official response during a meeting September 20-25 in New Orleans. The prelates strongly indicated at a March gathering that although they wanted to stay in the communion, they considered the demands unacceptable.

The 77 million-member communion is a loose association of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England. Each Anglican province is self-governing, and the communion's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has no direct authority to force a compromise.

But in a series of emergency summits and private negotiations over the last four years, Williams has worked to prevent a schism. Under pressure from Episcopal leaders, he has agreed to attend the bishops' meeting in New Orleans.

Last month he announced that neither Robinson nor conservative bishop Martyn Minns, head of a group of breakaway U.S. Episcopal parishes aligned with the Anglican Church of Nigeria, would be invited to a once-a-decade Anglican assembly called the Lambeth Conference. Minns's group, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, was formed by Nigerian archbishop Peter Akinola to counter the liberal-leaning U.S. denomination on its home turf.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Williams said a split isn't inevitable. But he said the communion "feels very vulnerable and very fragile, perhaps more so than it's been for a very long time."

A split would create a financial hardship for the communion. The small but wealthy Episcopal Church provides a significant chunk of the communion's budget. Even with a schism, Episcopal leaders say they are committed to maintaining their missions work with overseas Anglicans. (Rachel Zoll, AP)

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