Page last updated at 02:36 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

North American Anglicans separate

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams parades with other bishops during Lambeth Conference 2008
The Anglican Church has been struggling with internal divisions

Traditionalist Anglicans have formally announced that they are setting up a new church in the US and Canada.

The new Anglican Church in North America claims 100,000 worshippers, in four dioceses and dozens of parishes.

It means in each country there are now two competing churches, both claiming allegiance to the Anglican Communion.

The American Church's liberal stance on homosexuality has led some traditionalists, including some whole dioceses, to leave the Church.

They have instead formed a range of new alliances, often with Churches in Africa.

The move will reduce the rolls of the US Episcopal Church, which has 2.1 million members, and the Anglican Church of Canada, which has 640,000 members.

The status of church property in the four breakaway dioceses - Fort Worth in Texas, Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Quincy in Illinois and San Joaquin in California - will have to renegotiated.

Growing body

During a celebration service in Illinois, its leaders unveiled a draft constitution for the new Church.

"The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church," said Bishop Robert Duncan, head of the breakaway Diocese of Pittsburgh, who heads the new group.

Bishop Gene Robinson
The ordination of gay Bishop Gene Robinson has split the Communion
"We are a body that is growing, that is planting new congregations, that is concerned to be an authentic Christian presence in the US and Canada," said Bishop Duncan.

But doubts remain as to whether or how it will be recognised by the wider Anglican Communion, says the BBC's Religious Affairs correspondent Christopher Landau.

The Communion's Secretary General, Canon Kenneth Kearon, has told the BBC that it is entering what he called uncharted waters, and he is calling on the leaders of the new Church to act in accordance with the Communion's existing regulations.

"The issue as I see it is whether in fact this body, or province as they're calling it, wishes to be recognised as a province of the Anglican Communion," he said.

"And I think if they do, there are clear procedures by which that might be explored. And I do urge those involved to address the structures of the Communion."

But those supporting the new North American Church believe that Anglicanism's structures have been unable to safeguard the Church's unity, and they now look to leadership from a group of largely African leaders.

Neither the liberalising American Churches nor this much smaller new Church want to leave the Anglican Communion.

But how they can exist together in the same global communion is looking increasingly problematic, says our correspondent.

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