Anglican panel rebukes Episcopal Church

American branch urged to express regret over gay bishop's consecration

October 19, 2004|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

An Anglican Communion panel in London rebuked the Episcopal Church yesterday for approving its first gay bishop, but the Episcopal leadership showed no sign of retreat in a simmering dispute that has threatened to split the global church.

The report, issued by an advisory commission of the worldwide Anglican Communion, called for the Episcopal Church to express regret for consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who leads the Diocese of New Hampshire, and place a moratorium on similar promotions.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, first among equals in the Anglican Communion, commissioned the panel last year to try to find a way out of a bitter dispute over homosexuality that has divided important sectors of the Anglican world into opposing camps.

In response, U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said yesterday that the Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of the Anglican Communion, regretted pain caused by the elevation last year of Robinson. But Griswold went on to praise the work of gay people at all levels of the church and suggested the 71-page report was focused on containing differences rather than resolving them.

"I am obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry," Griswold said in a prepared statement. "I regret that there are places within our Communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out the truth of who they are."

Griswold continued: "Unless we go beyond containment and move to some deeper place of acknowledging and making room for differences . ... we will do a disservice to our mission."

Griswold's comments drew swift criticism from traditionalist Episcopalians who have opposed Robinson's consecration and had called for the Anglican Communion to punish the U.S. church. Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, head of the American Anglican Council, which opposed Robinson, accused Griswold of "regrettable arrogance."

"How can he go on leading a church which has been asked to turn back?" Duncan told the Associated Press.

The dispute highlights a theological and cultural clash between First World and Third World members of the Anglican Communion. The push to open up the church to gays has come from post-industrial nations such as the United States and Canada, where homosexual lifestyles are increasingly open and accepted. Some of the most fervent opposition has come from parts of Africa, where opponents of Robinson's promotion say it runs counter to Scripture.

In addition to asking for an expression of regret, yesterday's report also called for a closer relationship among the 38 regional churches that make up the Anglican Communion. It proposed a written covenant in which each church would "in essential matters of common concern to the Communion, place the interests and needs of the community of member churches before its own."

The Rev. Ian T. Douglas, professor of mission and world ministry at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., said the covenant was one of the most significant elements of the report because it called for a change in the way members of the church relate to one another. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches around the world that enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

"Without compromising historic understandings of jurisdictional authority or the nature of the autonomy of churches in the Anglican Communion, it does call us to a new level of awareness about what exactly does interdependence mean," Douglas said.

While the panel focused most of its criticism on the Episcopal Church, it did take a shot at some of U.S. church's critics. Some church leaders in the developing world, particularly Africa and South America, have moved to shepherd dissident parishes in states such as Wyoming, Georgia and Tennessee.

"We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own to express regret for the consequences of their actions, to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion and to effect a moratorium on any further interventions," the report said.

The work of the panel, officially known as the Lambeth Commission on Communion, drew a mixed response yesterday from Episcopalians. Some traditionalists said it did not go far enough, while some liberals seemed relieved it was not tougher.

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, a gay advocacy group in the Episcopal Church, said she was pleased the report focused on improving relations.

"It's a long process, and the tone of the report I found so gratifying because it calls us to reconciliation and not quick solutions," she said.

The Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina and a fierce opponent of Robinson's consecration, said the report did not do enough to correct what he called the Episcopal Church's flawed theology on homosexuality.

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