Episcopal bishops decline to roll back inclusion of gays
Posted by The Times-Picayune September 25, 2007 4:18PM
By Bruce Nolan
Episcopal bishops meeting in New Orleans declined Tuesday to give powerful conservative Anglican primates overseas the new, unequivocal guarantee the primates demanded to end the ordination of partnered gay bishops.
But the bishops said the vote was not an act of defiance. Rather, they said they reconfirmed the same moratorium on new gay bishops the Anglican Communion sought and received last year after the ordination of Bishop V. Gene Robinson shocked the Anglican world in 2003.
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, center, listens as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (not shown) addresses bishops during the final day of meetings New Orleans.
In addition, the Episcopal bishops pledged “not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions,” another flash point in the Episcopal church’s collision with the primates, or heads of churches in 37 other autonomous Anglican provinces around the world.
But, significantly, the bishops did not pledge to stop some priests’ under-the-radar practice of using rewritten house blessings or other rites to bless gay couples, usually with the tacit approval of sympathetic local bishops.
Bishop John Howe, a conservative from the Diocese of Central Florida, said he thought most Anglican leaders would accept the statement, even though he did not support it because it was not strong enough against same-sex blessings.
On the final day of a six-day meeting in New Orleans, the bishops also endorsed a plan by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to appoint eight Episcopal bishops to care for conservative congregations that do not recognize her leadership.
That was designed to blunt the recent actions of conservative primates in Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda who have ordained new bishops aligned with them to care for Episcopalians in conservative American congregations.
The bishops’ statement deplored those acts as boundary violations, called them “incursions” and called for them to end.
The bishops approved the multipart resolution on an overwhelming voice vote. It concluded a meeting convened with the 77 million-member Anglican Communion on the verge of schism over the Episcopal church’s sanctification of faithful gay conduct.
Most bishops satisfied
Earlier this spring, primates meeting in Tanzania demanded in an unprecedented communique that the Episcopal church, through its House of Bishops, bring itself back to traditionally understood Christian values by Sept. 30. The crisis brought the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Communion, on a historic visit to New Orleans last week, which only underscored the peril of the moment.
Before leaving Friday, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said he would consult this week with other primates on the results of the New Orleans meeting, then offer his own opinion.
But on Tuesday, many bishops said they felt they had given Williams and the primates what they wanted, without wholesale backtracking on its inclusion of gay men and lesbians in the church.
“I would say the House of Bishops has acquiesced to the primates’ concerns,” said Louisiana Bishop Charles Jenkins, a conservative who has worked to avoid a break-up of the communion.
“I believe the Anglican Communion is saved for those who want to remain in it,” he said.
By several accounts Jenkins, and Washington, D.C., Bishop John Chane and Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno, both liberals, played key roles in fashioning the resolution the bishops passed.
On making new bishops of partnered gay men or lesbians, the bishops fell back on carefully crafted language in which the church in 2006 pledged “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.”
Primates won’t like it
Earlier this year a special committee of the Anglican Communion called the Communion Sub-Group advised Anglicans worldwide that the Episcopal church had enacted the moratorium on ordaining gay bishops the global church had requested.
The primates rejected that interpretation, however, and asked for an even clearer pledge out of the House of Bishops, precipitating the current crisis.
Jenkins said the church’s position Tuesday was that it was reconfirming the 2006 moratorium on the ordination of gay bishops, even though it was later judged to be too vague by some overseas primates.
“We’re saying your Sub-Group has found this sufficient, and we assume you do too,” Jenkins said.
However, the bishops’ position on blessing same-sex unions is less clear. The Episcopal church has no official rite for blessing gay unions, and so far has rebuffed internal efforts to create one.
But some sympathetic priests have long performed unofficial blessings, sometimes so prominently they are announced in newspapers. “It is the ambiguous stance of the Episcopal church that causes concern among us,” the primates told the church last spring.
But Jenkins said that while the bishops did not pledge to eradicate even unofficial same-sex blessings, they used the primates’ own language from a 2003 document to remind them that when dealing with gay Christians, bishops find “it is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.”
Bonding in N.O.
Bishops like Wayne Wright of Delaware, the former rector of Grace Episcopal Church, said the bishops were deeply moved by their visit to New Orleans, an emotional experience he said helped bond them together.
But the stress of the past three years nonetheless was evident in several ways.
Bishop Jeffrey Steenson of the Diocese of Rio Grande in Albuquerque told colleagues during the meeting that he had begun the process of resigning his office to join the Roman Catholic church in part because “this is not the Anglicanism in which I was formed.”
“It seems to me the Episcopal Church has made a decisive turn away from those extraordinary efforts to preserve the Communion. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Episcopal Church has rejected the discipline of Communion but wants it only on its own terms.”
Bruce Nolan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3344.