Diocese joins global rift over gays

DALLAS (AP) – The Episcopal Church’s Dallas Diocese became the seventh in the denomination to appeal for alternative leadership from overseas Anglican leaders because of the ongoing rift over homosexuality.

Dioceses in Central Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; Fresno, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Springfield, Ill., and South Carolina previously requested such alternative oversight from world Anglicanism – a step short of formal schism. Leaders of the Albany, N.Y., Diocese pledged “solidarity” with the seven “sister dioceses” but didn’t request overseas leadership.

Meanwhile, bishops of the 17.5 million-member Church of Nigeria questioned the “moral justification” for the scheduled 2008 meeting of the world’s Anglican bishops since those from the Episcopal Church (Anglicanism’s U.S. branch) and elsewhere “have abandoned the biblical faith.” Instead, the Nigerians suggested that bishops from Africa and other Global South nations hold a separate 2008 conference.

Presbyterian laity split on gay issues

LENOIR, N.C. (AP) – A major organization of lay members says the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “crossed a critical line of demarcation” last month by allowing local congregations and regional bodies some leeway to install openly gay clergy or lay officers who live with same-sex partners.

The Presbyterian Lay Committee’s board said in a statement that fellow conservatives “are not capable of reversing the denomination’s plunge into apostasy” any longer – so now they must find a way forward.

The long-standing committee, which has a mailing list of 450,000, objected to the actions in June of a national assembly of the 2.3 million-member denomination.

3 members of sect sentenced to death

BEIJING (AP) – A Chinese court sentenced to death the leader and two members of an underground sect and gave prison terms to 13 others, for murdering 20 members of a rival group, the leader’s lawyer said.

Xu Wenku, who heads Three Grades of Servants, was held responsible for criminal actions carried out by his followers – although prosecutors proved no direct link, the lawyer said. He plans to appeal.

Underground sects are attracting swarms of new adherents and face repression from China’s atheist government.

Prosecutors said when Three Grades began losing converts to a rival group, Eastern Lightning, Xu sent Li Maoxing and Zhang Min to “punish” their rivals and 20 believers were killed. Xu and Li Maoxing claimed police tortured them to extract false confessions.

The court in Shuangyashan convicted Xu and the two followers in March and issued death sentences last week. Three other defendants got suspended death sentences (usually commuted to life in prison) and 10 got terms from three to 15 years.

Xu was a seminal figure among barely educated rural preachers who helped revive Christianity despite the Maoist ban on all religion. Some regard him as heretical. Eastern Lightning, accused of abducting followers from other groups, believes Jesus was reborn as a woman in Henan province.

In separate developments:

-Zhang Rongliang, who established one of the largest networks of Protestant churches outside government control, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, the U.S.-based China Aid Association said. He previously spent nearly 12 years in prison and labor camps.

-Bishop Jia Zhiguo, 72, an oft-arrested leader of underground Roman Catholics, was taken from a hospital by Religious Affairs Bureau officers while recovering from surgery, the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reported.

Church of England assembly says women bishops ‘theologically justified’

YORK, England (AP) – Appointing women as bishops is “theologically justified,” the Church of England’s General Synod declared July 8, moving toward a decision sure to create contention in the international Anglican Communion, which is already divided over gay bishops and clergy.

A final decision is not expected until at least 2012. Among other things, church laws need to be rewritten.

Synod delegates voted 288-119 on a motion by Archbishop of York John Sentamu declaring that women bishops are consistent with the faith.

Sentamu acknowledged that women bishops would strain relations with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

The Church of England has ordained women priests since 1994. Of 38 national branches in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, only Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. Episcopal Church currently have women bishops.

The Episcopalians last month elected the first women to head an Anglican branch.

Milwaukee Catholic archdiocese to sell key facility, said to be mulling bankruptcy

MILWAUKEE (AP) – The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee plans to sell its Archbishop Cousins Center as 10 lawsuits by victims of clergy sexual abuse move toward trials.

Tentative plans call for archdiocesan offices and some 115 workers there to move to adjacent Saint Francis Seminary.

Katherine Freberg, an attorney representing eight of those alleging abuse, said the archdiocese expressed interest in seeking settlements but also raised the possibility of bankruptcy filing.

“Going into bankruptcy would be extremely painful and would only come after extensive consultation with the advisory groups of the archdiocese, and as a last resort,” a church spokesman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The first of 10 cases on abuse, allegedly committed more than 30 years ago in California by two former Milwaukee priests, is scheduled for trial in California on Nov. 6.

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