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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 18:01 GMT
Anti-gay US clergy mulls 'split'
The Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson
Robinson's appointment has opened deep splits in the Church
Christians of the US Episcopalian Church who oppose the consecration of an openly gay bishop are gathering in Texas to form a nationwide alliance.

Conservative Episcopalians who belong to the worldwide Anglican Communion are to formalise a network which some are touting as a "church within a church."

Clerics and laymen representing about 10% of the US church are to agree a charter and elect leaders.

They insist their proposed network is not a breakaway denomination or schism.

'Sense of future'

One of the network's leaders, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, said the two-day gathering in Plano would give the church's traditionalists from 12 dioceses with some 235,000 members a "some sense there is a future".

Delegates accuse the Church of having lost its heart and soul and of having turned away from the bible, after last year's consecration of New Hampshire's Gene Robinson, who has lived for years with a gay partner.

But they insist that the planned Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses is not a breakaway denomination, but a "church within a church".

Their official goal is to work out how to continue within the Anglican Communion but outside of the control of the liberal bishops, the BBC's Religious Affairs correspondent Jane Little reports.

Outside observers and media have been banned from attending the gathering.

The network has been tight-lipped about most key issues, including who wrote the charter and what it proposes.

Experts say conservative parishes do not want to officially split from the church because - under secular law - they have to surrender their properties to the denomination.

"We've got a $12 million facility and we can't just walk away from it," the Reverend Donald Armstrong, who represents Midwestern and Mountain states, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Several foreign Anglican churches have denounced or broken fellowship with the Episcopal Church after Gene Robinson's consecration.

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