The Archbishop of Canterbury,head of the 77 million Anglicans worldwide, has issued a warning against the election of a second openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church.
The move from the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles to elect 55-year-old Reverend Canon Mary Glasspool, who has been in a relationship with another woman since 1988, comes months after the US church lifted a ban on gay bishops.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, wary of the schism that threatened to break the Church when the first gay bishop was ordained six years ago, issued a statement apparently aimed at making the Los Angeles diocese rethink.
Glasspool's election "raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole," Williams said in a statement released by Lambeth Palace.
"The process of selection, however, is only part complete," he cautioned.
"The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications."
The Anglican Church faces the same kind of turmoil that erupted in 2003 when openly gay Reverend Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was elected bishop, sparking joy from liberals but outrage among traditionalists, particularly in Africa.
"I am very excited about the future of the whole Episcopal Church, and I see the Diocese of Los Angeles leading the way into that future," said Glasspool, a native of Staten Island, New York, after the election.
"But just for this moment, let me say again, thank you, and thanks be to our loving, surprising God. I look forward, in the coming months, to getting to know you all better, as together we build up the Body of Christ for the world."
The more liberal stance of the Episcopalian leadership has increasingly divided congregations within the United States in recent years, prompting some conservative parishes and dioceses to leave the national church.
It has also had wider implications on the worldwide Anglican Communion, which for years has struggled to unite liberal and conservative fringes that are diametrically opposed on the issue of gay bishops.
A 2007 summit of Anglican leaders in Tanzania had urged the Episcopal Church to bar the consecration of openly gay bishops as well as official blessings of same-sex unions.
Around 200 bishops, including those from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, boycotted the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference last year in response to what they saw as the church's "moral decline."
Clergy from Africa, Australia and the United States meanwhile have pushed for a breakaway group in protest at Robinson's election.
The breakaway church includes eight North American Anglican groups and bishops and congregations linked to conservative churches in Kenya, Uganda, and South America.
With an estimated 100,000 members, the breakaway movement represents a small fraction of the global Anglican Communion, which is estimated at 77 million adherents, including 2.2 million in the United States.
The preamble to the new church's constitution said its leaders were "grieved by the current state of brokenness within the Anglican Communion prompted by those who have embraced erroneous teaching and who have rejected a repeated call to repentance."
Glasspool's election to fill one of two openings for bishops of the diocese followed the selection Friday of the Reverend Canon Diane Jardine Bruce, 53, the rector of a San Clemente church.
The two became the first women elected as bishops of the diocese in its 114-year history.