MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — The Diocese of South Carolina voted Saturday to distance itself but not completely split from the national Episcopal Church because of church positions on same-sex unions and ordination of gays.
Eighty-seven clergy members voted to pass the resolution during a special convention in Mount Pleasant, Canon Kendall Harmon said, with 17 voting no. The vote allows leaders of the diocese to reduce its participation in the national church without severing ties completely, as some dioceses and parishes have.
The discord stems from the national church's consecration in 2003 of its first openly gay bishop and its authorizing bishops to bless same-sex unions, a decision made at its national convention this summer.
The Diocese of South Carolina and two others opposing consecration of gay bishops voted in 2006 to reject the authority of the national church's presiding bishop, but stopped short of a full break with the church.
In June, four breakaway conservative dioceses formed a rival national organization called the Anglican Church in North America. Other parishes have since joined.
Bishop Mark Lawrence has said the Diocese of South Carolina does not want a split but a discussion with the national church on the divisive issues.
Saturday's vote authorizes the South Carolina bishop and the diocesan Standing Committee to begin withdrawing from church councils and governing bodies.
The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, a 77 million-member group that is the third-largest group of churches worldwide, behind the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
The vote comes several days after the Vatican said it is making it easier for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, a move that could entice traditionalists opposed to women priests, openly gay clerics and same-sex unions.
The change means conservative Anglicans will be able to join the Catholic Church while retaining aspects of their liturgy and identity, including married priests.