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Church Is Rebuked Over Gay Unions and a Gay Bishop

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

[October 19, 2004-NYT]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.

The Anglican panel, known as the Lambeth Commission, was
convened a year ago by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan
Williams, to seek ways to heal the church in the face of
growing schism. He appointed as chairman the church's
longest-serving primate, Archbishop Robin Eames of Armagh,
Northern Ireland, a veteran of reconciliation efforts in
both his church and his country. The commission included 17
theologians and bishops who ranged from liberal to
conservative, but who managed to approve their 88-page
report unanimously.

Archbishop Eames said at a news conference that the
commission concluded that each of the 38 provinces of the
church had a right to autonomy, "Yet they are not free to
depart unilaterally from a shared faith of discipline
without this affecting our ties as a family," he said.

He said the commission heard testimony from many sides,
some "quite vicious." He said he was "troubled" by
expressions of homophobia within the church.

One side, Archbishop Eames said, argued that the openness
to gay Christians "should be embraced," while the other
"urged a course of discipline or punishment." Imposing
discipline was "problematic," he said, because of the
Anglican Communion's lack of a central authority. The
archbishop of Canterbury is considered "first among
equals," but a distinguishing feature of Anglicanism is its
rejection of a pope in the Roman Catholic tradition.

The report says that given the "widespread unacceptability"
of Bishop Robinson's ministry in provinces around the
world, the archbishop of Canterbury should "exercise very
considerable caution in inviting or admitting him to the
councils of the Communion."

The next international meetings to which Bishop Robinson
would be invited are the Anglican Gathering, planned for
2008 in South Africa, and the Lambeth Conference that same
year, said the Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas, a professor of
mission and world Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity
School in Cambridge, Mass.

Bishop Robinson did not respond to the report, and spent
the day meeting with leaders of his diocese.

"We want some time today to prayerfully consider the
report," said Michael Barwell, a spokesman for Bishop
Robinson and the Diocese of New Hampshire. "This report is
the beginning of a fairly long process. It's not a
judgment, it's the beginning of a discussion."

Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington, who helped
consecrate Bishop Robinson and has blessed same-sex
couples, issued a defiant response to the report's call to
express his regrets.

"It remains puzzling to me that no one objects to my
baptizing the children of gay parents, blessing their home,
their car and their dog, yet I cannot bless the loving
relationship which makes this family's life possible
without upsetting so many of our Anglican brothers and
sisters,'' Bishop Chane said in a statement. "Yet the
Commission has determined that this is the case, and so,
again, I want to express my regret for breaching the
Communion's bonds of affection."

The recommendations will now be considered by various
meetings of national and international church leaders.
Bishop Griswold said that the executive council of the
Episcopal church would meet next month, and the council of
bishops in January to decide how to respond to the
recommendations.

The report catalogs the chaos and confusion that have torn
the Communion.

Eighteen of 38 provinces issued statements condemning the
decisions in North America. Parishes that disagree with
their bishops' stances have broken with their dioceses and
placed themselves under the authority of foreign bishops -
as happened when three Los Angeles churches pledged
themselves to the archbishop of Uganda.

"All these developments have now contributed materially to
a tit-for-tat standoff in which, tragically in line with
analogous political disasters in the wider world, each side
now accuses the other of atrocities, and blames the other
for the need to react further in turn," the report said.

It concludes: "There remains a very real danger that we
will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt
and find ways of continuing in our present Communion not be
heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk
apart."

Lizette Alvarez contributed reporting from London for this
article, which can be found at the New York Times HERE