Episcopal church cracks down on dissidents

CHICAGO Wed Jan 16, 2008 7:00pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church have stepped up a crackdown on conservative dissidents, ordering one bishop to stop his religious work and threatening a second with the same thing.

Both rebuffed the moves.

The worldwide Anglican church and its U.S. branch have been fractured since 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in over four centuries.

There are also divisions over interpreting the Bible, the ordination of women and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the 2.4-million-member U.S. church, last week slapped Bishop John-David Schofield, leader of California's 8,000-member Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, with an "inhibition."

It ordered him as of January 11 to "cease from exercising the gifts of ordination in the ordained ministry of this church" and stop all "episcopal, ministerial and canonical acts."

That happened because the Fresno, California-based diocese last month seceded, becoming the first Episcopal diocese to do so, and aligned itself with the conservative Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, based in South America.

Schofield told the Episcopal leadership neither he nor the diocese were under their jurisdiction any more.

"How is it that 60 million Anglicans worldwide can be wrong and a few hundred thousand in the American church can claim to be right?" Schofield said.

A spokesman for the San Joaquin Diocese said on Wednesday the bishop and his followers continued to carry out services and administrative duties as before.

Jefferts Schori warned the bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robert Duncan, he faced a similar "inhibition" unless he proves he has not left the church.

Duncan's diocese took an initial vote last year in favor of aligning with a foreign primate as part of new, larger structure for traditionalists in the United States and Canada.

"Few bishops have been more loyal," Duncan responded. "I have not abandoned the communion of this Church. I will continue to serve and minister as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh."

If the Episcopal House of Bishops in March affirms Jefferts Schori's order against the California bishop, he could be "deposed' and his post declared vacant. A lawsuit would follow if he or those loyal to him refused to leave church property.

Dissident congregations in Virginia which have left the church but tried to hold on to property are already engaged in a court battle over who owns what.

The Anglican Church of Canada is also in turmoil with some conservatives to moving to join the same South American Anglican branch as the California diocese because of their opposition to blessing gay marriages.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

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