Episcopal leader says no retreat on same-sex unions

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The Episcopal Church's top bishop reaffirmed her support for same-sex unions on the day Anglican leaders had set as the deadline for the U.S. church to assert it would not authorize prayer services for gay couples or approve gay clergy as bishops.

"All people - including gay and lesbian Christians and non-Christians - are deserving of the fullest regard of the church,'' Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori said before services Sunday at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. "We're not going backward."

The 77-million-member Episcopal fellowship has been splintering since 2003, when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S.

About 60 of the more than 7,000 Episcopal parishes have left or have lost a significant number of clergy and members, according to the national church.

At a national meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday, bishops pledged to ``exercise restraint'' in approving another gay bishop and said they would not authorize ``any public rites of blessing" for same-sex couples.

Conservatives in the church called the pledge an act of defiance that would allow the common practice of priests privately blessing same-sex unions to continue.

``This is neither prohibition nor restraint,'' Bishop John-David Schofield of the Fresnobased Diocese of San Joaquin said in a statement. ``It is simply turning a blind eye.''

The San Joaquin diocese is one of four of the country's 110 Episcopal dioceses that have taken steps to split off from the national church.

The San Francisco-based Diocese of California has ordained more gay and lesbian clergy than any other, and its priests have blessed samesex unions for more than three decades. Jefferts Schori said she had planned her Sunday speaking engagement in San Francisco before Anglican leaders issued their February communique setting the Sept. 30 deadline. "It's an accident in some sense, but it's a blessed accident,'' Jefferts Schori said.

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