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Old December 9th, 2007, 04:47 PM   #1
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Concessions to homosexuality create more turmoil in US Episcopalian church

FRESNO, Calif., Dec. 8 — The Diocese of San Joaquin voted on Saturday to cut ties with the Episcopal Church, the first time in the church’s history a diocese has done so over theological issues and the biggest leap so far by dissident Episcopalians hoping to form a rival national church in the United States.

Fissures have moved through the Episcopal Church, the American arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, and through the Communion itself since the church ordained V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in a long-term relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Traditionalists at home and abroad assert that the Bible describes homosexuality as an abomination, and they consider the Episcopal Church’s ordination of Bishop Robinson as the latest and most galling proof of its rejection of biblical authority.

In the last four years, the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest Christian body, has edged closer to fracture over the issue. In the United States, several dozen individual congregations out of nearly 7,700 have split with the Episcopal Church. But Saturday’s vote was the first time an entire diocese has chosen to secede.

“The church will inevitably leave the Bible behind at point after point,” said Bishop John David Schofield of San Joaquin to the diocesan convention on Friday, “but since on this view the Bible is the word of fallible men rather than of the infallible God, leaving it behind is no great loss.”

Two other dioceses, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, out of 110 in the Episcopal Church held their first votes this fall. Bishop Schofield estimated that another six or seven might follow suit, and that together they would ultimately form a new Anglican province of North America, marginalizing the Episcopal Church.

The Diocese of San Joaquin stopped sending money to the church budget after the consecration of Bishop Robinson. Its cathedral runs a ministry for those struggling “with sexual brokenness,” which includes homosexuality, Bishop Schofield said.

The move to leave the Episcopal Church risks roiling people’s lives in the diocese, beyond the expense and strain of potential lawsuits. Secessionist priests could be defrocked and might lose their pensions. Loyalist congregations, if they owe any debt to the diocese, may lose their buildings. People might leave parishes whose views they disagree with, and if a legal fight between the diocese and the church grows ugly enough, parishioners might leave the Anglican faith.

The split also threatens to draw in the rest of the Communion and the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Communion’s spiritual leader. The diocese accepted an invitation from the archbishop of the Anglican province of the Southern Cone in South America to join his region temporarily. Bishop Frank Lyons of the diocese of Bolivia, in the Southern Cone, said that Archbishop Williams had told his archbishop the arrangement “was a sensible way forward.”

But Mr. Radner said the Southern Cone’s invitation showed the willingness of some provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America to create an alternative Communion structure, bypassing the Episcopal Church and the archbishop of Canterbury himself. That could eventually create a new church.


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