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Episcopal Conservatives Stake Claim

A group asks the world's Anglican archbishops to discipline the church for approving a gay bishop.

October 10, 2003|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

DALLAS — Declaring themselves the rightful heirs of Anglican Christianity in America, more than 2,700 conservative Episcopalians on Thursday urged the world's ranking Anglican archbishops to discipline the Episcopal Church for approving an openly gay bishop.

The conservatives said they are no longer asking for a separate or parallel Anglican church for "biblically orthodox" Episcopalians alongside the established 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, which is one of the nation's most influential denominations.

Instead they said they want to be recognized as a successor church if the Episcopal Church does not repent from what conservative members call its "unbiblical and schismatic actions."

The strongly worded "call to action" also urged disaffected Episcopalians to withhold their financial contributions from national church headquarters and to redirect the money toward "biblically orthodox mission and ministry."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 81 words Type of Material: Correction
Episcopalians -- An article Friday in Section A about the Dallas meeting of conservative Episcopalians incorrectly said that Florida Bishop Stephen H. Jecko wanted Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold to leave office. In fact, Jecko asked Griswold not to participate in the ordination of a new bishop in Florida. The story also said the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England occurred in the 15th century. It occurred in the 1500s, which is the 16th century.

Spearheaded by the conservative American Anglican Council, the Dallas statement will be hand-delivered to sympathetic Anglican primates next week in London, where the world's Anglican primates -- the leaders of 38 self-governing national churches affiliated with the Anglican Communion -- are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the developments in the U.S. and a similar controversy in Canada.

The Dallas statement urges the primates, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, not only to discipline errant U.S. bishops, but to "guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America."

The conservative leaders said they will defer to the primates on how that might happen and made no mention of a possible expulsion of the Episcopal church from the worldwide Anglican Communion.

"Many outside assume we will announce we are leaving this morning," the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, said at Thursday's emotional session. "Everyone has been thinking we want a parallel province [church]. Not! We are not leaving. They left us. We are the rightful heirs of all the culture and legacy and faith of the Episcopal Church."

It is not clear whether the primates will take the requested action or whether the archbishop of Canterbury, who has the last word on the matter, will agree.

The Dallas meeting attracted attention from the Vatican, which opposes sex outside of traditional marriage.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, one of the most powerful cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, sent a letter from Rome on behalf of Pope John Paul II to Episcopalians here assuring them of Ratzinger's "heartfelt prayers for all those taking part in this convocation."

"The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond [Dallas]," Ratzinger said in a letter that leaders here said he was invited to send.

The action here came at the conclusion of a three-day meeting of the conservative American Anglican Council and was by far the strongest repercussion yet to the national Episcopal Church's approval in August of the election of an openly gay priest, the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, as the next Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, and the tacit approval of marriage-like ceremonies for committed gay and lesbian couples.

"We repudiate the General Convention's confirmation of a non-celibate homosexual to be a bishop of the church, and its acceptance of same-sex blessings as part of our common life," the statement said. "These actions have broken fellowship with the larger body of Christ and have brought the Episcopal Church under God's judgment."

The declaration also called on primates to discipline Episcopal bishops who "departed from biblical faith and order" by supporting Robinson and same-sex blessings, and to "guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America."

It was an extraordinary statement by past Anglican standards of civility, tolerance and good manners.

Over the last three decades, the church has weathered controversies over changes in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women. In each of those cases, the church held its ground, losing only a relatively small number of members who formed breakaway churches.

In New York, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, issued a statement deploring the use of "inflammatory rhetoric" and "ultimatums."

"In such a climate, mutual pursuit of ways to build up rather than tear down is made more difficult," Griswold said. "At the same time, we must acknowledge and respect our brothers and sisters who feel alienated by certain actions of the recent General Convention. We must take seriously their grief and anger and seek as best we can to stand with them." Griswold supported Robinson's confirmation and the church's stand on same-sex blessings.

Meanwhile, Griswold was accused Thursday by a fellow Episcopal bishop, the Rt. Rev. Stephen H. Jecko of Florida, of abusing his office in a controversy that has involved a Roman Catholic bishop.

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