Pittsburgh Episcopal Bishop Robert W. Duncan Jr. last night dismissed the promise of church leaders meeting in New Orleans to "exercise restraint" in approving gay bishops and same-sex blessings.
Speaking before the opening in Pittsburgh of a four-day gathering of more than four dozen bishops representing both the Episcopal Church's conservative minority and U.S. and Canadian offshoots of the denomination, Bishop Duncan said the leaders' promise was "the same stuff; it's not movement."
"The American church is moving in one direction," he said. "The Western church is moving in one direction. The classic church stands where it has always stood."
The New Orleans decision, reached by about 170 members of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, ultimately may not be enough to prevent a schism between the worldwide Anglican communion and its American arm. The Episcopal Church has been at odds with a majority of the world's more than 70 million Anglicans since its 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the communion, attended the first two days of the six-day New Orleans meeting and pushed the bishops to make concessions for the sake of unity. Their response will be evaluated by the archbishop, other communion leaders and a clergy-lay panel during the next several months.
Many conservative Anglican leaders in Africa and Asia have threatened to boycott the next crucial gathering of the church -- the once-a-decade meeting of bishops in Lambeth, England in July -- if the American church does not adhere more closely to Scripture. The Anglican Communion, the world's third-largest Christian body, is an alliance of 39 geographical provinces in more than 160 countries.
The bishops' statement from New Orleans was "a 'try to keep your foot in the door' maneuvering effort," said Canon Kendall Harmon, a conservative from the Diocese of South Carolina, who was an observer. "It feels like they want to change the ground rules instead of pay the price for what they believe."
The New Orleans statement included a demand that overseas Anglican leaders refrain from taking oversight of conservative American parishes unhappy with the direction of the national church.
Bishop Duncan and others in 2004 established the Anglican Communion Network, an alliance of dioceses and parishes that now comprises about 10 percent of the Episcopal Church's 111 dioceses and 2.2 million members. The network and its affiliates meeting this week in Pittsburgh are hoping to show a unified front in the face of what they say is the American church's movement away from its biblical roots. Bishop Duncan is the moderator of the network.
The four-day session, called the Common Cause Council of Bishops, includes nine affiliates, such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, which split from the Episcopal Church 135 years ago, and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a group of parishes under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in Nigeria.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Steve Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1919.