Friday, December 5, 2003

Conservative Episcopalians have moved quickly in the month since the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop to set up an alternate denomination that has legal and ecumenical clout.

Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan has been selected to lead this new group, called the Network of Confessing Dioceses and Congregations, which includes 13 active Episcopal bishops and 384,935 laity. That’s the number of signatures to a statement of support on the Web site of the American Anglican Council (AAC).

Bishop Duncan, who is also AAC vice president, will be a main speaker at “Plano East;” a Northern Virginia gathering of conservatives from the Virginia and D.C. dioceses meeting Jan. 9-10 at Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge, Va. Named after an October gathering in Dallas that galvanized 2,700 conservative Episcopalians, it will be the first of several regional rallies.

“This is an ecclesiastical disaster,” AAC spokes-man Bruce Mason said, “but we don’t see ourselves as leaving the church.”

Instead, they have recently hired four more employees in their D.C. office and are setting up a parallel denomination with Bishop Duncan as the conservative alternative to Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, spiritual leader of the nation’s 2.3 million Episcopalians.

On Nov. 8, Bishop Duncan’s diocese voted in a measure allowing it to secede from the Episcopal Church. The measure must be approved twice — the second time being November 2004 — for it to be binding.

According to a statement, Bishop Duncan would have equal standing with Bishop Griswold at international Anglican gatherings and would represent the conservatives at any meetings with Roman Catholic and Orthodox groups.

Several Orthodox bodies, including the Russian Orthodox, have broken relations with the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church. This past week, the Vatican canceled a top-level Catholic-Anglican summit in Seattle because of its displeasure with Bishop Robinson’s consecration.

Bishop Griswold is already on thin ice with the AAC bishops, one of whom, the Rt. Rev. John Howe of Central Florida, told him to resign.

“Those bishops who participated in [Bishop Robinsons] consecration, and those who supported it, should immediately resign their positions in the Episcopal Church, USA,” he said in an open letter dated Nov. 9. “Sadly, I believe that resignation call should include you. … I have honored and trusted you, but I believe you have betrayed that trust.”

In another development, the archbishop of Nigeria, the Rev. Peter Akinola, is rumored to be laying the groundwork for himself as an alternative to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Nigeria, the fastest-growing of the 70 million-member Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces, has at least 17 million Anglicans.

A trial balloon of sorts was floated last month when the Anglican Church of Nigeria announced plans to establish its own branch in the United States for expatriate Nigerians worshipping in Episcopal churches here.

Those Nigerians must not be compromised by a denomination that has an openly homosexual bishop, according to a Nov. 26 report in the Daily Times of Nigeria.

Sydney, Australia, Archbishop Peter Jensen said in an October speech that the world could have “two Anglicanisms:” one centered in Canterbury and the other in Lagos, Nigeria.

On Nov. 23, he told a local TV station he was considering moving under the moral authority of Archbishop Akinola while maintaining ecclesiastical ties to Archbishop Williams. Such a split would keep Anglicans together on paper, but not in practice.

Because of a snowstorm, the Episcopal Church headquarters in New York had no response yesterday to the AAC’s plans. Its officials have produced a document on “supplemental pastoral care” for conservative parishes in liberal dioceses. But the document still gives the local bishop veto power over any action conservatives may take.

Bishop Duncan and AAC chief Canon David Anderson have already pronounced the plan “inadequate.”

Said Mr. Anderson: “I made it clear that any plan that did not have an override over the local bishop if he or she was noncooperative simply was inadequate.”

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