FRESNO, California (Reuters) - An entire California diocese of the U.S. Episcopal Church voted to secede on Saturday in a historic split following years of disagreement over the church's expanding support for gay and women's rights. The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno in central California, voted to leave the church, which has been in significant upheaval since 2003 when U.S. Episcopals consecrated the first openly gay bishop in the church's more than four centuries of history. The vote was 173 lay and clergy convention delegates in favor, with 22 against. Amid the dissent of recent years, the Episcopal Church said 32 of its 7,600 congregations had left, with another 23 voting to leave but not taking the final step. San Joaquin is the first of the church's 110 dioceses to complete the split. Last year, clergy and lay representatives of the 8,800- member Diocese of San Joaquin -- with 47 churches in 14 counties -- overwhelmingly voted at their annual convention to split with the U.S. church, but held off on a final decision until Saturday's meeting.
I am earnestly praying that these good people will come to understand that their true destination is communion with the Holy See. It will be within the Catholic Church, under the leadership of the Successor of St. Peter, that they will finally find the spiritual home they are seeking. For now, they are aligning themselves with another part of the Anglican Communion. That can be only a temporary home. The difficulties they have experienced in the Episcopal Church will surface eventually even in those "safe" parts of Anglicanism. The crisis is not the ordination of women or the ordination of active homosexuals. Rather, it's a crisis of leadership. Christ has given us the leader He wants us to have, and that leader is Peter.