NEW YORK - Theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province this week, in a long-developing rift over the Bible that erupted when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop.

The announcement represents a new challenge to the already splintering, 77-million-member world Anglican fellowship and the authority of its spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The new North American Anglican province includes four breakaway Episcopal dioceses, many individual parishes in the U.S. and Canada, and splinter groups that left the Anglican family years, or in one case, more than a century ago.

Its status within the Anglican Communion is unclear. It is unprecedented for a new Anglican national province to be created where two such national churches already exist. But traditionalists say the new group represents the true historic tradition of Anglican Christianity and is vital to counter what they consider policies that violate Scripture.

Bishop Robert Duncan, who leads the breakaway Diocese of Pittsburgh, is the proposed new leader of the new North American province, which says it has 100,000 members.

Williams has been striving for years to find a compromise that would keep liberal and conservative Anglicans together, but unlike a pope, he lacks the power to force a resolution.

Anglicans have been debating for decades over what members of their fellowship should believe. Tensions erupted in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who lives with his longtime male partner. *