June 16, 2006

Episcopal church struggles with gay issues

By Michael Conlon

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - A key committee trying to craft
the U.S. Episcopal Church's response to the anger and
alienation caused by the consecration of an openly gay bishop
wrestled with disagreements on Friday over how to apologize and
what to promise for the future.

"I do not regret the decision we made," said committee
co-chairman the Rev. Frank Wade, referring to the church's
consecration three years ago of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire,
the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in
more than 450 years of Anglican church history.

Another member of the panel said the group should state
outright it "regrets the offenses caused" and offer an apology
to the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, as the worldwide
church is called, as well as promise not to consecrate more
bishops who are "living in a same-sex union."

Robinson's elevation prompted some U.S. churches to
affiliate themselves with a network of fast-growing Anglican
churches in Africa, where homosexuality is largely taboo.

The special committee is meeting at the U.S. church's
triennial convention. Its assignment is to come up with a
resolution or a package of resolutions that the convention can
vote on before adjourning next week.

The 2.3 million-member U.S. branch of the Anglican
Communion is under pressure to respond to the Windsor Report, a
paper issued at the behest of the archbishop of Canterbury,
Rowan Williams, which demanded the U.S. church apologize for
the Robinson elevation, not do any more like it and make it
plain that it is against the blessing of same-sex unions.

At the end of Friday's meeting, the committee decided to
break into three smaller groups to consider the issues, and try
to come up with agreed-upon language sometime on Saturday. The
church leadership had hoped to have the gay-related issue
disposed of before Sunday when the church elects a new
presiding bishop, but it was not clear if that deadline could
be met.

The panel is working with three principal resolutions
crafted by a commission formed by the church leadership earlier
this year. Some committee members were on that commission.

The resolutions include an admonishment that church
congregations use "very considerable caution" in elevating gays
to bishop; that clergy not authorize public blessings of
same-sex unions until the broader church agrees on a policy;
and that the entire convention reiterate a statement the
Episcopal bishops made last year saying they regretted the pain
the Robinson consecration caused.

"We definitely have to make a choice," said member Michael
Howell, adding that if the panel did not put forth a statement
that expressed regret many would find the response inadequate.

Wade, the retired rector of St. Alban's in Washington, said
the committee needed to find a middle ground that reflected
both the church's desire for autonomy yet recognized its
interdependence with the broader Anglican community.