Conservative Episcopal Dioceses Push for Greater Autonomy

Less than a week after the Episcopal Church USA (searchconsecrated its first openly gay bishop, three conservative dioceses approved measures Saturday indicating the split in the church has widened.

The Pittsburgh diocese approved an amendment aimed at allowing the diocese to ignore some of the national church's policies.

The amendment says the diocese will prevail "in cases where the provisions of the constitution and canons of the Church of the Diocese of Pittsburgh speak to the contrary" or where resolutions of the Episcopal Church USA are found "to be contrary to the historic faith and order of the one holy catholic and apostolic church."

In Texas, Fort Worth area clergy and lay delegates passed a resolution Saturday repudiating the appointment of Bishop V. Gene Robinson (searchof New Hampshire as "a schismatic act." In secret balloting, the resolution passed 160-34.

Jack Iker, bishop of the Fort Worth (searchdiocese, said the decision clearly represents a split in the church.

"We made it clear if they went ahead and did this, they'd split the church," he said in an interview after the meeting. "The only thing that's holding us together now is we have the same name. But there's been a radical break in our relationship with each other in the Episcopal Church."

He said he doesn't know what the next step will be.

"Heaven only knows," he said. "Things are not the same, but beyond that I don't know that I can be any more specific. We are not any longer going to support national church policies either financially or otherwise."

The Northwest Texas diocese in Amarillo approved a resolution 147-71 that allows individuals to ask that all 2004 donations stay within the diocese rather than having part of them sent to a national Episcopalian organization.

Bishop Wallis Ohl said before the vote he would support that resolution but opposed letting parishes vote to block all funds from the church headquarters, the Amarillo Globe-News reported in Sunday editions.

Ohl said he does not consider Robinson's consecration "worth becoming schismatic over."

"I have said that I am an Episcopalian, and I will die and be buried in the Episcopal Church," Ohl told The Associated Press.

For the Pittsburgh measure, a second vote by clergy and parishioners at the diocese's annual convention next year is required before the amendment can take effect.

Church leaders in the Pittsburgh Diocese earlier approved resolutions declaring "null and void" the national church's decisions this summer both to consecrate Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is openly gay, and to approve the blessing of same-sex unions.

Both that vote and the vote Saturday are part of a national drive among conservative dioceses and clergy seeking to distance themselves from the Episcopal Church USA for making moves they believe go against the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The national denomination of the Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion. The Pittsburgh Diocese represents about 20,000 Episcopalians.

U.S. conservatives who believe gay sex violates Scripture have said they want Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, to authorize a separate Anglican province for them in North America.

Last week, bishops overseas announced they were in a "state of impaired communion" with the Episcopal Church -- a step short of declaring a full schism. International church leaders are not expected to announce any sort of permanent break until after a commission formed by Williams reports next year on whether a split can be averted.