Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said Thursday that the Diocese of South Carolina can’t unilaterally secede from the national church, as she urged conservatives to stay despite sharp disagreements over theology and homosexuality.

“The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed,”  said Jefferts Schori, who heads the 1.9 million-member denomination.

Leaders in the Diocese of South Carolina announced Oct. 17 that disciplinary actions taken against their bishop, Mark Lawrence, triggered their disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church. On Sept. 18, the denomination’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops found Lawrence guilty of abandoning the Episcopal Church and renouncing its rules.

The split escalated a long-running feud between the national church, which has approved gay bishops and same-sex marriage, and South Carolina conservatives who oppose the moves.

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