Episcopalians confirm bishop; some appeal to church leader
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Episcopal Church voted Tuesday to approve the election of its first openly gay bishop, a decision that risks splitting the denomination and shattering ties with its sister churches worldwide.
After a delay caused by allegations that he inappropriately touched another man and was affiliated with a Web site that indirectly linked users to porn, the Episcopal General Convention confirmed the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.
Robinson had been cleared of the accusations a few hours before the vote was taken.
"God has once again brought an Easter out of Good Friday," Robinson said.
He acknowledged that many in the church would be upset by the decision. Some convention delegates who opposed him left the meeting in tears.
"That is the only thing that makes this not a completely joyous day for me," Robinson said.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said the bishops voted 62-45 to confirm Robinson's election.
American conservatives and like-minded overseas bishops who represent millions of parishioners have said confirming Robinson would force them to consider breaking away from the church.
The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion.
After the results were announced, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, a conservative who had campaigned against Robinson, stood at the podium in the House of Bishops, surrounded by fellow conservatives, and read a speech saying he and the others were "filled with sorrow."
He said the Episcopal Church has "divided itself from millions of Anglicans throughout the world."
Duncan called on the bishops of the Anglican Communion and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the communion, "to intervene in the pastoral emergency that has overtaken us."
Eighteen other bishops signed his statement.
The American Anglican Council, which represents conservative Episcopalians, planned a meeting in October to decide its next move. The council said it would find a way to "stay in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury."
Williams issued a statement saying it was too soon to know what the impact of the vote would be on the church.
The church has been debating the role of gays for decades. A win by Robinson was expected to build momentum for other policy changes that would be favorable to homosexuals.
Griswold said he voted for Robinson out of respect for the decision made by the Diocese of New Hampshire, not as an endorsement of homosexuality. It is rare for the General Convention to reject a diocese's choice of bishop.
Some Episcopal parishes already allow homosexual clergy to serve and gays who did not reveal their sexual orientation have served as bishops. But Robinson is the first clergyman in the Anglican Communion to live openly as a gay man before he was elected.
If conservatives do decide to break away, it is unclear what that would mean for the Episcopal Church. Some parishes could split from their dioceses and refuse to recognize clergy who support homosexuality, but stop short of a complete separation.
A full schism would trigger, among other things, bitter fights over parish assets and undercut the global influence of the U.S. church.
Liberals note that among the bishops threatening to leave are some who pledged to walk away before over issues such as ordaining women -- then did not follow through.
But many Episcopalians believe the debate over homosexuality has been more divisive.
Bishops from Africa, Asia and Latin America, representing more than a third of Anglican Communion members worldwide, took the unprecedented step this year of severing relations with a diocese that authorizes same-sex blessings -- the Diocese of New Westminster, based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Some conservative American parishes had already formed breakaway movements, such as the Anglican Mission in America, which remains within the Anglican Communion but rejects the Episcopal Church.