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BOSTON (Reuters) - Gene Robinson, whose consecration as the U.S. Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop opened a deep rift in the worldwide Anglican Communion, said Saturday he planned to retire in 2013.
Robinson's election as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 led some conservative Episcopalians to form their own church and stoked a backlash among Anglican churches in regions such as Africa.
In remarks to the New Hampshire Diocese's annual convention that were posted on its website, Robinson, 63, said the strains of the controversy surrounding his role figured in his decision.
"The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family and you," he said. "Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop, have been a constant strain."
"While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the Diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn't say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate," added Robinson.
He said he gave early notice of his plans to smooth the transition to his eventual successor.
In May, the 2 million-member Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, ordained a second gay bishop, Mary Douglas Glasspool in Los Angeles, despite a request by the Communion not to do so. Robinson gave the opening prayer at the January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.
The Communion's leaders are seeking to avoid a global schism in the body that has 80 million members in more than 160 countries. The Anglican Communion is the third-largest Christian denomination in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches.
Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Peter Cooney