Following a widening theological rift with the national Episcopal Church, Episcopalian clergy and laity in Pittsburgh have voted 227 to 82 to "realign" their diocese with a more traditional province in the Anglican Communion.
In 2003, the Episcopal Church ordained as bishop of New Hampshire V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man who had divorced his wife. The event has triggered intense controversy between conservative Episcopalians and more liberal Episcopalians within the church.
Episcopalian Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert W. Duncan defended the decision to split away, saying “What we’re trying to do is state clearly in the United States for the authority of Scripture.” He claimed that more liberal bishops “have hijacked my church, and that’s how most of the people here feel.”
Bishop Duncan is also moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, an alliance of conservative dioceses and parishes.
A few days before the vote, the head of the Episcopalian Church, USA, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote to Bishop Duncan warning him he would face canonical discipline and civil lawsuits if he "committed canonical offenses" including overseeing the approval of the resolution to separate.
Reverend George Warner, president of the House of Deputies for the national church until last year, explained the likely consequences of this decision. “Katharine Schori is extremely clear,” Reverend Werner said. “If a diocese like this chooses to claim $30 million in trust funds and 70 churches, she’d be negligent in her duty to let them leave. She can’t back down.”
Custody of the diocese’s church properties and financial resources could be intensely disputed by both the national church and the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the event of separation.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh joins the Diocese of San Joaquin in California in making a preliminary vote to separate from the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is also considering a similar vote.