NEW YORK - Theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province yesterday in a long-developing rift over the Bible that erupted when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop.
The announcement was 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 parishes in the United States and Canada, and splinter groups that left the Anglican family years ago, in one case more than a century ago.
The province's status within the Anglican Communion is unclear. It is unprecedented for a new Anglican national province to be created where two national churches already exist. But traditionalists say the new group represents the true historic tradition of Anglican Christianity and is vital to counter what its adherents consider policies that violate Scripture.
Bishop Robert Duncan, who leads the breakaway Diocese of Pittsburgh, is the proposed leader of the province, which says it has 100,000 members. In a phone interview from Wheaton, Ill., where leaders of the new group met, Duncan called the announcement an "exciting and remarkable moment" for traditionalists.
Williams has been striving 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.
A London spokesman for the Anglican Communion did not respond to a request for comment.
The immediate impact of yesterday's announcement on the 2.1-million-member Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, which has about 640,000 people on its rolls, was unclear.
The new province will not be fully formed for months, or perhaps longer, while it approves a constitution and leadership. The members also must resolve their own theological differences over ordaining women and other issues.
In the four breakaway dioceses, legal challenges over property will likely take resources away from building the new province. Besides Pittsburgh, the dioceses are Fort Worth, Texas; Quincy, Ill.; and San Joaquin, based in Fresno, Calif.