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Episcopalians to gather amid lasting rift over gay bishop

(Correction: Because of an editing error, a story on Monday's Nation pages about the US Episcopal Church and the gay bishop debate incorrectly said that the Anglican Communion is the governing body of the Episcopal Church. The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, is the head of the Anglican Communion, but the communion has no direct authority over any Anglican church outside of England.)

CHICAGO -- The US Episcopal Church faces a divisive debate this week over the controversy caused by the consecration of the church's first openly gay bishop, the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The church leadership has made proposals that it believes will address concerns within the 2.3 million-member US church, as well as from the Anglican Communion abroad, which is the governing body of the Episcopal Church.

But before the nine-day triennial General Convention opens in Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow, some critics said they expected very little movement on issues such as banning the blessing of same-sex unions, or on elevating more gay people to the episcopate.

That lack of movement, they said, increases the likelihood of further divisions down the road.

Groups representing gay Episcopalians have mobilized to prevent the convention from backtracking.

``My hope and guess is that there will be vigorous debates, but not scarring ones," said Mark Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of New York. Some disagreement is a sign of vigor, he added, but ``when you've got debates that are rending, that's not healthy either."

He said a report issued by a special commission should give the bishops and other church representatives at the meeting a ``glimpse of a way to move forward -- not ideal, but acceptable."

The US branch of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion has been in turmoil since the last convention three years ago approved the elevation of Robinson to the episcopate.

He is the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in more than 450 years of Anglican Church history.

The report Sisk mentioned a number of resolutions that will be considered, along with others at this year's convention.

Among them:

An admonishment that congregations use ``very considerable caution" in elevating gay people to the episcopate, or to bishop.

A call that the clergy not authorize public blessings of same-sex unions until the worldwide church agrees on a common policy.

A request that the entire convention reiterate a statement that the Episcopal bishops made last year, which said they regretted the pain that the consecration of Robinson had caused.

In the view of the Anglican Communion Network, a group of a dozen US bishops and followers who seek a return to what they see as orthodoxy, those proposals are all viewed as ``inadequate."

The proposals do not respond to a critical report commissioned by the leader of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, according to Canon Daryl Fenton, chief operating officer of the network.

The Rev. Todd Wetzel of Good Shepherd Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, said he expected that participants would not change their stance on expressing regret for Robinson's consecration.

The current position, Wetzel said, amounted to saying: ``I'm sorry you're hurt, which is not the same as saying you regret it happened."

When it comes to blessing same-sex unions, the practice is not likely to be changed, added Wetzel, head of Anglican United, another conservative group.

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