July 28, 2005

US Episcopal clerics to sue bishop in church court

BOSTON (Reuters) - Nine U.S. Episcopal bishops plan to sue
the bishop of Connecticut in religious court, a church
spokesman said on Thursday, over the bishop's support for the
church's first openly gay bishop.

Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith has suspended one priest
and threatened five others who object to his support of Rev.
Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The priests had asked to be put
under the leadership of another bishop, a step the church says
it cannot take.

Now Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan and eight others from
mostly Southern and Midwestern states say they are preparing a
suit charging Smith with "conduct unbecoming of a bishop" of
the Episcopal Church.

"We are all praying for a peaceful resolution to this,"
said Frank Peter, a spokesman for Duncan.

In 2003 Smith voted in favor of Robinson's ordination,
which has greatly divided the 77-million-member worldwide
Anglican Church. He also has approved of the blessing of
same-sex unions.

"We would prefer to find some way other than this deepening
battle, but we refuse to allow this recent aggression to go
unchecked or unchallenged," the nine clerics wrote in an open
letter to Smith.

Bishops from Kansas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York,
Florida, Texas and South Carolina signed the letter. They
pledged to raise legal and financial support for the six
Connecticut parishes at the center of the dispute.

In a letter posted on his Web site, Smith said the demands
of the six priests to be placed under the authority of a
different bishop "far exceed ... what the Church can offer."

Last month the Connecticut priests voiced their concern
about the consequences that Smith's support for Robinson could
have on the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church.

"It is of particular and grave concern to our six parishes
that the Bishop has fostered policies which effectively exclude
from ordination all who follow traditional, catholic teaching
on human sexuality," the six priests said in a statement.