Conservatives Upset With Episcopal Church Break Off, Form Rival Religion

Conservatives within the Episcopal Church angered by the liberal views of the church's leaders plan to form a rival denomination.

The new Anglican Church in North America will include four Episcopal dioceses that recently split from the U.S. church, along with breakaway Anglican parishes from Canada.

The announcement comes after decades of debate over what Episcopalians should believe about issues ranging from salvation to sexuality. Tensions erupted in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop.

Bishop Robert Duncan, who leads the breakaway Diocese of Pittsburgh, is the proposed new leader of the new North American province, which says it has 100,000 members.

"The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church," Duncan said in a news conference in Wheaton, Ill., where the proposed constitution for the new province was drafted. He noted that membership and worship attendance in the U.S. denomination have been declining for years.

"We are a body that is growing, that is planting new congregations, that is concerned to be an authentic Christian presence in the U.S. and Canada," Duncan said.

The world Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches with roots in the Church of England. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the United States. But the new North American church says it represents true Anglican beliefs.

The Episcopal Church, in response, issued a statement Wednesday affirming its position as the Anglican Communion's "official, recognized presence ... in North America," allong with the official churches in Canada and Mexico.

"And we reiterate what has been true of Anglicanism for centuries: that there is room within The Episcopal Church for people with different views, and we regret that some have felt the need to depart from the diversity of our common life in Christ," the Rev. Charles K. Robertson said in the written statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.