NEW ORLEANS, Sep 25 (Reuters) US Episcopal Church bishops, hammering out a response to a request by the broader Anglican Communion that it stop ordaining openly gay bishops, said its answer would be ''clear and unambiguous.'' The church also said it would not withdraw its support for gay and lesbian church members, indicating that the Anglican struggle over the issue between liberals and traditionalists that could split the worldwide church is far from over.
''We want that statement to be clear and unambiguous and we are working in that direction,'' Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta told a news briefing in New Orleans, where the House of Bishops has been meeting yesterday.
The church leaders will wrap up six days of meetings today with a response to the request made by senior Anglican bishops meeting in Tanzania earlier this year.
Those bishops asked that the US church, by the end of this month, renounce the blessing of same-sex marriages and agree not to allow more non-celibate gays to become bishops.
''Are we going to withdraw our support of gay and lesbian people in the church? No, we're not ... They're fully enfranchised members of our body,'' said Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles.
''Are we going to do anything that will exacerbate this situation? No, I don't think we will.'' The stakes are high not least because the Episcopal Church, with 2.4 million members, provides 40 per cent of the budget for the operating costs of the 77-million-member Worldwide Anglican Communion and a substantial amount of the funds for overseas mission and relief work.
The conflict over gays broke out in 2003 when the US church consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop in an openly gay relationship in more than four centuries of church history.
The American church has never formally sanctioned the blessing of same-sex unions though such rites are carried out in some areas.
The issues have caused dissension within the Episcopal, which could split itself on the topic, and angered Anglicans in Africa, Asia and Latin America, who account for the communion's fastest growing congregations.
While the consequences of not complying with the September 30 deadline have not been spelled out, the controversy could see the Episcopal Church losing full membership in the Anglican Communion.
Before the New Orleans meeting US church leaders had said the other top Anglican bishops around the world had no authority to set deadlines or make demands on any member church, and the decisions which they were asking the bishops to make could only be made at the next Episcopal Church convention in the summer of 2009.
Reuters KK VP0745