May 4, 2006

Episcopals consider gays in Calif. bishop election

By Duncan Martell

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - When the Episcopal Diocese of
California elects a bishop on Saturday, it could widen the rift
over homosexuality within the global Anglican Communion because
three of the seven candidates are openly gay.

No gay or lesbian cleric has been elected bishop since the
consecration of Eugene Robinson in 2003 as bishop of New
Hampshire threw the U.S. church and the worldwide family of
Anglican churches into turmoil.

"This is being watched internationally," said Cynthia
Brust, a spokeswoman for the American Anglican Council, a group
of parishioners, churches and dioceses unhappy with Robinson's
consecration. "We're just watching and waiting."

Robinson is the first bishop known to be in an openly gay
relationship in more than 450 years of Anglican history.

The issue has been simmering since at least 1979, when the
Episcopal Church's General Convention resolved that the
ordination of gays was inappropriate. Robinson's eventual
consecration prompted some U.S. churches to leave the Episcopal
Church and affiliate themselves instead with a network of
fast-growing Anglican churches in Africa.

"There is a diversity of opinion within the Episcopal
Church about the understanding of human sexuality," said Canon
Robert Williams, director of communications for the Episcopal
Church. "The church, locally and internationally, is committed
to a process of understanding and ongoing discovery."

The roots of the Episcopal Church -- also known as the Via
Media, or "Middle Way" -- in the United States are as old as
the country and eight of the first 14 presidents were
Episcopalian. The church has long prided itself for including
both liberal and more conservative ideologies.

Last month, the Special Commission of the Episcopal Church
composed of clergy and laypeople and formed to address
divisions caused by Robinson's consecration recommended that
the church be very cautious about doing so again and make a
fresh statement of apology and repentance.

The group's report said its members were divided over
whether to go further and instruct the 2.3 million-member
church to "refrain" from putting gays into the episcopate, but
in the end settled on telling members to use "very considerable
caution" before installing another gay bishop.


The commission was formed last year amid the acrimonious
debate within the 77 million-member Anglican Communion caused
by Robinson's consecration.

The worldwide church leadership called on the U.S. church
to cease and express regret, and a year ago the U.S. bishops
did issue an apology. They also agreed not to consecrate any
more bishops, gay or straight, until at least the church's next
convention in June, called the General Convention, and to put a
moratorium on blessing same-sex unions.

The commission said it "was not of one mind on the use of
the words 'exercise very considerable caution,' with some
members instead recommending the words 'refrain from."'

Church members and clergy meet at San Francisco's Grace
Cathedral, the seat of the Diocese of California, the state's
oldest. They will elect a successor to longtime and beloved
Bishop William Swing, who is retiring.

The candidates are the Right Rev. Mark Handley Andrus of
Alabama; the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, who is gay and works
in the Diocese of California; the Rev. Jane Gould of
Massachusetts; the Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago, who is gay;
the Rev. Donald Schell of San Francisco; the Rev. Canon Eugene
Taylor Sutton; canon pastor of Washington National Cathedral;
and the Very Rev. Robert Taylor of Seattle, who is also gay.

Diocese clergy and laypeople will have multiple ballots
until a candidate emerges with 51 percent of the vote. If a gay
candidate is elected, the June convention will have to decide
if he or she is consecrated.