CHICAGO Leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church voted on Thursday to defrock a bishop who has been a leader among dissidents opposed to the ascendancy of gays in the church and a critic of other issues involving liberal scriptural interpretation.
The House of Bishops of the 2.4-million-member U.S. branch of the global Anglican Communion said its members meeting in Utah has voted 88-35 to remove Bishop Robert Duncan, head of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from the ordained ministry.
Over the years Duncan has been a leading orthodox dissident and an organizer of those who have been at odds with the U.S. church since 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop in more than four centuries of church history known to be in an openly gay relationship.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the U.S. branch of the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican church, said the bishops had concluded that Duncan's actions constituted an "abandonment of the communion of this church" and that "he should be deposed."
The action came just weeks before Duncan's diocese was to vote on whether to bolt from the U.S. church and place itself under the jurisdiction of a conservative South American Anglican primate. A diocese in California earlier became the first Episcopal diocese to defect and others are considering the same action.
The Episcopal bishops, in the middle of a three-day meeting in Salt Lake City, said their vote to depose Duncan was "based on the evidence of Bishop Duncan's record of actions and statements, and was the culmination of a process that began in 2007."
Duncan has been a leader in organizing Episcopal dissidents into a new structure outside the jurisdiction of the present U.S. church.
Thursday's vote further fragmented the U.S. church, which is already beset by divisions over the role of gays, the blessing of same-sex marriages and other issues of scriptural interpretation. It has already led to legal disputes involving church property -- some of it historic and worth millions of dollars.
The Anglican Communion is a federation of national churches with no strong hierarchical authority as exists in the Roman Catholic church.
Bishop Gary Lillibridge of West Texas said "As difficult as this decision is for me and many others in our Church, it is important to realize that the decision ... was not based on the theological convictions of Bishop Duncan, but rather on the evidence presented regarding statements and actions concerning moves to take the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)