Potential election of gay Episcopal bishop in California could have far-reaching consequences

.- Episcopalians of the Diocese of California will vote for a new bishop this weekend, but the results may create greater division among already-tense churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.  

On Saturday, about 700 priests and lay people will gather for a diocesan convention at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to elect a new bishop to replace the retiring Rev. William Swing.

Three of the seven candidates are openly gay, and choosing one of them to head the diocese would further alienate some Episcopal members, reported the Associated Press.

Among the candidates they'll consider will be two gay men - the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe of San Francisco, and the Very Rev. Robert Taylor of Seattle - and a lesbian, the Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago. All three live openly with same-sex partners.

The four other candidates are: the Rt. Rev. Mark Handley Andrus of Birmingham, Ala.; the Rev. Jane Gould of Lynn, Mass.; the Rev. Donald Schell of San Francisco; and Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton of Washington National Cathedral.

The Anglican Communion, with its 77 million followers in 164 countries, has been torn over the issue of gay clergy for years. It became particularly pronounced in 2003, when New Hampshire Episcopalians elected the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who has a longtime male partner, as their bishop.

Canon Bill Atwood of the Ekklesia Society, an Episcopal aid network based in Carrollton, Texas, told the AP that Californians will likely ignore the consequences of their actions on the worldwide communion and vote according to “a mistaken understanding of justice issues.”

Members will vote until one of the candidates gets a simple majority. If there is no winner, another voting exercise will be held May 13.

The winner cannot be consecrated without approval from the Episcopal church's legislative body, the General Convention, which meets in June.

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