U.S. News

Episcopal Church to urge restraint on gay bishops

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - U.S. Episcopal Church bishops told Anglican leaders around the world on Tuesday that they will urge restraint in elevating gays or lesbians to the position of bishop and will not authorize rites to be used for the blessing of same-sex marriages.

But it remained to be seen whether the pronouncements went far enough to satisfy critics of the Episcopal establishment or prevent further divisions in the 77-million-member global Anglican Communion.

While some conservative bishops had left the meeting early to hold their own meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there was some favorable comment from both sides.

“We have been a bit clearer about what we have done,” said Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a gay whose consecration touched off the controversy. “I think we have offered assurances to the (global communion) who by the way have been, I believe, destabilized by misinformation coming their way.”

Conservative Bishop Bruce MacPherson of western Louisiana, who voted against Robinson as bishop but opposes splitting the church, said progress was made.

“I would like to have seen a little greater clarity, but I think this was OK,” MacPherson said.

When leading Anglican bishops, or primates, from around the world met in Africa earlier this year they “requested” that the U.S. branch of the church make it clear by September 30 that it would not ordain another openly gay person as a bishop and would not allow the blessing of same sex unions.

It was the 2003 Episcopal consecration of Robinson, the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in more than four centuries of church history, that prompted the request.

In the statement approved in New Orleans the bishops of the U.S. church reaffirmed a resolution passed by its general convention in the summer of 2006.

This calls upon those picking candidates for bishop “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 and will lead to further strains on communion.”

The New Orleans statement added that the bishops acknowledge “that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom” the restraint message applies. But there was no outright pledge to ban another consecration should a gay person be elected bishop.

Robinson’s elevation not only splintered the U.S. church but riled defenders of traditional Christianity in the “Global South” -- African, Asian and Latin American congregations who make up more than half the world’s Anglican followers.

On the issue of blessing same-sex unions the bishops said they “pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion ...”

They went on to say that such blessings are not happening in a widespread way and that the majority of bishops oppose them. But they did not pledge to ban them, citing the communion’s own call for a “breadth” of response in personal ministry.

The bishops also expressed dismay that conservative bishops from Africa and elsewhere have been visiting U.S. dioceses uninvited and installing bishops in the United States loyal to their orthodox views. They noted that the communion previously discouraged such activity.