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Episcopalians try to ease split over gays

A world Anglican panel acknowledged that Episcopal bishops are trying to ease the turmoil over consecrating their church's first openly gay bishop.

But the committee said that all sides in the long-running conflict over the Bible and homosexuality need to do much more to keep the beleaguered worldwide Anglican fellowship from splitting.

The advisory report from the lay-clergy Joint Standing Committee was written for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, as he struggles to prevent a schism in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the U.S., has been on the defensive ever since the denomination consecrated New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who has a male partner.

Anglican leaders had set a deadline last Sunday for the Americans to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for same-sex couples.

Episcopal bishops responded during a meeting in New Orleans last week, saying they will "exercise restraint" in approving another gay bishop and won't authorize prayers to bless same-sex couples. Many theological conservatives condemned the response as inadequate, while some liberals accused the bishops of sacrificing gays for the sake of unity.

In its report Wednesday, the committee indicated that the two Episcopal pledges from New Orleans fulfilled the requests of Anglican leaders. However, the panel said the Americans must do more to support theological conservatives, who are a minority within the church.

About 65 of the more than 7,000 U.S. parishes are breaking with the national church, or have lost most of their clergy. On Tuesday, one of the oldest churches in Georgia, Christ Episcopal Church in Savannah, established in 1733, announced it was splitting off from the denomination.

At least four of the 110 Episcopal dioceses - Fort Worth, Texas; Pittsburgh; Quincy, Illinois; and San Joaquin, California - are taking steps to break away and align with an overseas Anglican leader. Most Anglicans outside the U.S. hold traditional views that homosexuality is condemned by Scripture.

"Unless some measure of reassurance and security is given to those congregations, parishes, bishops and dioceses who are feeling an increasing sense of alienation from the Episcopal Church, there will be no reconciliation either within the Episcopal Church or within the wider Anglican Communion," the panel wrote.

But the committee had equally frank criticism of overseas Anglican conservatives who have been consecrating bishops to lead networks of breakaway parishes in the United States that rival the Episcopal Church. "We believe that the time is right for a determined effort to bring interventions to an end," the panel wrote.

The committee also said it was "dismayed" that some disputes between Episcopal leaders and departing parishes had ended up in court. It said the litigation should end.

Canon Kendall Harmon, a leading conservative in the Diocese of South Carolina, noted that some members of the committee, including conservative Bishop Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East, did not have a chance to include their views in the report.

Anis had addressed Episcopal bishops at the New Orleans meeting, saying they had moved so far from Scripture that some "think you are a different religion."

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