NEW YORK – Episcopal bishops at odds over homosexuality ended a private meeting Wednesday saying they had failed to reach agreement over dioceses that reject the authority of the church's incoming national leader, who supports gay relationships.
The 11 bishops said they "were unable to come to common agreement on the way forward," although they recognized the need to accommodate the dissenting dioceses.
"The level of openness and charity in this conference allow us to pledge to hold one another in prayer and to work together until we have reached the solution God holds out for us," the bishops said in a statement. They did not say whether another meeting was planned.
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Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the world Anglican Communion, had asked the U.S. bishops to hold the talks. He is struggling to keep the Anglican family unified despite deep rifts over whether same-gender partnerships violate Scripture.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the Anglican fellowship.
In 2003, the American denomination caused an uproar when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. This past June, the divisions intensified when the Episcopal General Convention elected a new presiding bishop who approves of ordaining partnered gays. Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to lead the church, will be installed Nov. 4.
Now, seven conservative dioceses are asking Williams for alternative oversight from an Anglican leader who shares their traditional views. The dioceses are Dallas; Central Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; Fresno, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Springfield, Ill., and South Carolina.
Among the bishops who participated in the three-day talks were Jefferts Schori and Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, leader of a network of Episcopal conservatives who are considering breaking away from the denomination. Williams also sent a representative.
Conservatives are a minority in the 2.3-million-member U.S. church, but a split could still cause extensive damage. Episcopal leaders fear a break will prompt expensive and bitter legal fights over parishes that take their property with them when they leave.
Worldwide, Williams has proposed giving Anglican churches with nontraditional views on issues like gay clergy a lesser role in the communion under a two-tiered system meant to prevent a schism.