Breakaway Churches Fuel

Episcopal Church Infighting

In the latest episode in the Episcopal Church's debate over homosexuality, an international dispute between bishops has broken out over two breakaway parishes in California.

In a strongly worded letter read to all congregations in the Los Angeles Diocese, Bishop J. Jon Bruno ordered priests at the conservative breakaway parishes to cease all ministry and threatened to revoke their ordination.

The priests serve at St. James Church in Newport Beach and All Saints Church in Long Beach, which quit the Episcopal Church and joined Uganda's Anglican Church, largely over the gay issue.

In response, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, head of Uganda's 8 million-member church, this week said he was defending U.S. Episcopalians who uphold "biblical orthodoxy." Orombi said his church would "condemn" and refuse to recognize any action Bruno takes against the California clergy because Bruno "has no jurisdiction over them."

Bruno said he has a duty "to protect and preserve the properties of these congregations as part of the diocese," implying future legal action.

Leaders of the two congregations, which together have 1,647 communicant members, said decades of drift from conservatism culminated in the denomination's acceptance of homosexual clergy, including the consecration last summer of a bishop living with a gay partner.

In May, Bruno led a church blessing ceremony for a same-sex couple.

Bruno's letter said it was "unfair and false" to accuse the denomination and diocese of forsaking orthodoxy. "I will not let the Holy Scriptures be compromised by those who seek to make their literalist and simplistic interpretation the only legitimate one," he wrote.

-- Associated Press

Lutheran Church Reports

Decline in Membership

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said baptized membership fell by 1 percent to 4,984,925 during 2003.

The report said that half the net decline of 250,000 members during the past 12 years of decline occurred in 2002 and 2003.

Listed causes included elimination of inactive members from the rolls, disbanding of 36 congregations and loss of eight congregations with 11,020 members that left the denomination last year.

The Evangelical Lutherans said fully active "communing and contributing" membership decreased by 110,641 the past two years, reaching 2,349,855.

The annual financial report showed total receipts for the 10,657 congregations of $2,554,509,414, up $61.2 million from 2002. Congregations reported nearly $1.7 billion in savings and investments.

Contributions averaged $550 per confirmed member, an annual increase of almost 3 percent.

-- Associated Press

2nd Round of Visits Begun

In Catholic Reform Effort

A second round of on-site visits to ensure that Catholic dioceses are complying with sexual abuse reforms began in late July, church officials said, with a few modifications.

The audits of all 195 dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies are being conducted by the Boston-based Gavin Group, which conducted the first round of audits last year. Those audits found that 90 percent of dioceses have complied with abuse reforms adopted in 2002.

Some bishops who believed that last year's audits were sufficient had tried to stop a second round of audits. In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed to a second round, but said bishops will discuss future audits when they gather again in November.

This year, auditors will ask how many abuse allegations dioceses have received since the first audit, in hopes of determining whether children continue to be at risk, according to Catholic News Service.

In another change, auditors will accept information from anyone who believes that a certain diocese may not be in compliance with the 2002 reforms. Last year, such information was first sifted by the church's Office of Child and Youth Protection.

-- Religion News Service

True Love Waits

Celebrates 10 Years

True Love Waits, the sexual abstinence campaign spearheaded by Southern Baptists, celebrated its 10th anniversary at an event held in an Athens theater in the shadow of the Olympics.

More than 460,000 cards, from youths across the globe who have committed to abstinence before marriage, were received in time for the Aug. 22 rally, announced LifeWay Christian Resources, a Southern Baptist agency.

"I believe the diversity of countries from where we've received either cards or word of commitments made shows the global scope of True Love Waits," said Jimmy Hester, a movement co-founder.

The ministry reported that the cards were sent from more than 20 countries, with in excess of 200,000 coming from AIDS-stricken South Africa.

The keynote speaker at the rally, attended by a few hundred people, was Olympian Carl Lewis.

-- Religion News Service