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(RNS) The Diocese of Pittsburgh voted Saturday (Oct. 4) to split from the Episcopal Church, becoming the second diocese to leave the national church over differences on homosexuality and the Bible.
A wide majority of clergy and lay people — 240 voted for succession, 102 against — favored aligning the diocese with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
“We deeply value our shared heritage and years of friendship with those still within that denomination,” said the Rev. Peter Frank, a spokesman for the diocese. “But this diocese could not in good conscience continue down the road away from mainstream Christianity.”
Last December, the Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno, Calif., became the first diocese to secede and join the more conservative Southern Cone. Two more dioceses — Quincy, Ill., and Fort Worth, Texas– are scheduled to hold similar secession votes next month.
Conservatives form a majority in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, but a minority in its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, which has 2.2 million members and 110 dioceses.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said there is room in the church for dissent, and schism has “frequently been seen as a more egregious error than charges of heresy.”
“I believe that the vast majority of Episcopalians and Anglicans will be intensely grieved by the actions of individuals who thought it necessary to remove them(selves) from the Episcopal Church,” Jefferts Schori said.
Conservatives have long lamented what they see as the denomination’s drift away from traditional Christianity, especially on matters of sexuality and biblical interpretation. Episcopal leaders say those charges are overblown.
At least 17 of the 74 congregations in the Pittsburgh diocese want to remain part of the Episcopal Church, according to the denomination.
Jefferts Schori said the national church will help to rebuild the diocese in Pittsburgh, as it has in San Joaquin. A lengthy battle over church property and assets is expected.
Next month, Pittsburgh conservatives are expected to return Bishop Robert Duncan to office. He was defrocked by the Episcopal Church last month for advocating secession.
By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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