Leaders of the Anglican Church have demanded that the U.S. Episcopal Church stop blessing same-sex unions and consecrating gay bishops. Two American Anglican leaders review the decision and discuss how it impacts the Episcopal Church.
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The dispute within the world's third-largest Christian denomination over same-sex unions and gay clergy escalated sharply yesterday.
Meeting in Tanzania, leaders of the Anglican Communion called on the U.S. Episcopal Church to state explicitly by September 30th that it will bar the blessing of same-sex unions and stop consecrating openly gay bishops. Otherwise, it risks further isolation from the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Church, with just 2.4 million members, is the small but affluent American branch of Anglicanism. In an eight-page communique, the Anglican bishop said, "The Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality by consenting to the Episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship and by permitting rights of blessing for same-sex unions."
The Episcopal Church does not officially endorse the blessing of homosexual unions, but some 10 percent of its 110 dioceses do perform same-sex blessings. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said Episcopal priests should not be blessing rites that violate Anglican teaching.
THE MOST REV. ROWAN WILLIAMS, Archbishop of Canterbury: The teaching of the Anglican Church remains that homosexual activity is not compatible with scripture.
The gathering in Tanzania was the latest attempt to heal a long-simmering rift between the Episcopalian leadership and more conservative Anglicans over issues related to homosexuality. The tensions boiled over in 2003, when Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living with his partner, was elected bishop of New Hampshire.
GENE ROBINSON, Bishop of New Hampshire: I have it in my mind that the best way I can help gay and lesbian persons is by being a good bishop.
Church conservatives were further angered last year, when Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports same-sex blessings, was elected as the U.S. church's first female presiding bishop.
Yesterday, she did not say how the U.S. church would respond, but said, "There is awareness that these issues are of concern in many provinces of the communion."
At least two dozen of the roughly 7,200 Episcopal parishes in the U.S. have split off to place themselves under more conservative bishops in other countries. This Newport Beach, California, church joined the Anglican Church of Uganda. Others that have split, like the Truro Church in Fairfax City, Virginia, have made claims for ownership of church property.
Church leaders at the Tanzania meeting agreed to create a special new vicar to help oversee other U.S. Episcopal churches opposed to same-sex blessings and the consecration of gay bishops.
Late today, Bishop Jefferts Schori issued a statement saying, "What is being asked of both parties is a season of" what she called fasting, "from blessing same-sex unions and consecrating bishops in such unions on the one hand, and from transgressing traditional diocesan boundaries on the other."