From The New York Times
Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2004

Church Is Rebuked Over Gay Unions and a Gay Bishop

  By Laurie Goodstein  

An Anglican Church commission rebuked the Episcopal Church USA yesterday for ordaining an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire and for blessing same-sex unions, and called for a moratorium on both practices "until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."

In a report issued in London, the commission asked the Episcopal Church to apologize for causing pain and division in the global Anglican Communion, the second-largest church body in the world, with 77 million members in 164 countries.

The report also calls for the bishops who consecrated the gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, to consider withdrawing from Anglican "functions" until they offer "an expression of regret." The current and former presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church were among the more than three dozen bishops who encircled Bishop Robinson last November and consecrated him with a laying on of hands.

The report puts the onus on the Episcopal Church to apologize for the consecration of Bishop Robinson and to stop blessing same-sex couples or risk severing ties with other members of the Communion. Commission members said such a step was also necessary to maintain the Anglican Church's relationships with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and with Muslims in countries like Nigeria, home to 17 million Anglicans.

"The report says no to unilateralism," said Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, one of few African bishops who has expressed support for the Episcopal Church's decisions. "What the commission is saying is, Let's move together."

The report stops short of saying what would occur if the Episcopal Church did not offer an apology or continued to bless same-sex couples, and it concludes, "There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together."

Conservatives expressed anger, and some liberals relief, that the commission did not call for harsher consequences, like the resignation of Bishop Robinson or the expulsion of the Episcopal Church and the Canadian diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia, which has also approved the blessing of same-sex unions. The commission said in effect that the answer to the conflict was not discipline, but dialogue.

The report calls for more accountability among the church's autonomous provinces, urging that all of the geographic regions eventually adopt a "common Anglican covenant" - a new set of principles to strengthen "the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion." But it acknowledges that such a covenant "would have no binding authority."

The conservatives come in for criticism, too. The report strongly repudiates bishops who have violated the church's traditional lines of authority by intervening in conservative parishes that have disavowed their more liberal bishops.

The commission also faulted the 18 provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America that have declared "broken or impaired communion" with the Americans. It asks these conservative bishops to desist and "express regret for the consequences of their actions."

The Episcopal Church faces a revolt by some of its own parishes and dioceses. The report rules out the formation of a "parallel jurisdiction" for conservative Episcopalians, instead urging conservative parishes to work with the Episcopal Church to find alternative pastoral oversight, preferably by retired bishops from within their own dioceses.

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh is moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, an alliance of 10 American dioceses that reject the Episcopal Church's governance. Bishop Duncan said he was disappointed in the report because it gave the Episcopal Church responsibility to police itself, and merely postponed the crisis.

" The Communion is in for a very rough ride," he said.

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a telephone interview from London that he found the report "nuanced and balanced." Asked if he planned to apologize, Bishop Griswold pointed out that the report never used that word. He said the report asked only for an "expression of regret" that the American church's decisions caused such dissension.

"I can regret the effects of something, but at the same time be clear about the integrity of what I've done," Bishop Griswold said.