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The Episcopal Church is at least one step closer to an historic split with the 78-million-member Anglican Communion. The national church's House of Bishops with its left-leaning majority rejected a newly proposed pastoral oversight council, calling it an "unprecedented" power play.

In a letter to the 2.1 million American Episcopalians, the bishops expressed a "strong desire" to remain within the Anglican Communion despite differences over same-sex rites and openly gay bishops.

But the bishops deeply disputed the communiqué that the Anglican Communion's top leaders (primates) issued in mid-February after they met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The primates, many of them theological conservatives, called for the American church to receive oversight from a pastoral council and for appointment of a "primatial vicar." The council and vicar would provide a means to keep conservative congregations and dioceses within the Episcopal Church.

The bishops raised significant concerns about the primates' plan, saying, "first among these is what is arguably an unprecedented shift of power toward the primates, represented, in part, by the proposed 'pastoral scheme.'" Under the plan, a non-American primate would chair the council and the primates would name two of the five council members. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the American church, would name the other two.

The bishops said the plan violated their constitution, and they urged the church's executive council to turn it down. The Episcopal executive council meets in June and is expected to hear from an internal working group about the February communiqué. The bishops indicated they continue to address the "pastoral concerns" of conservatives through other means ...

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