Panel calls for halt to ordination of gay bishops

By Michael Paulson and Charles M. Sennott

New York Times News Service

LONDON -- A commission of high-ranking Anglican leaders called this week for a moratorium on the ordination of gay bishops and on the authorization of public rites of blessing for same-sex unions as it attempts to head off a split in the global Anglican Communion over the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.

The Lambeth Commission, made up of bishops, priests, and laypeople from around the world, also called on the Episcopal Church USA to "express its regret" for breaching the "bonds of affection" between Anglican provinces by electing and consecrating the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay New Hampshire priest who lives in a committed long-term relationship with another man.

The commission criticized leaders of the Episcopal Church USA, as well as leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada, where a diocese authorized same-sex union rites. The archbishop of Canterbury should exercise "very considerable caution" before inviting or admitting Robinson to gatherings of global bishops because of "the widespread unacceptability of his ministry," the commission said, and the bishops who helped consecrate Robinson, including Massachusetts Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, should consider resigning from unspecified "representative functions" in the global church.


But the commission also criticized bishops of Anglican provinces in the developing world for offering to function as bishops to conservative parishes and individuals in the Episcopal Church USA. This summer, for example, two Southern California parishes said they were leaving the Episcopal Church and joining a Ugandan diocese; in March, the bishop of Northern Brazil joined five retired Episcopal bishops in confirming 110 people in Akron, Ohio, without the permission of the local bishop. And on Oct. 16, the conservative Anglican Communion Network announced in Providence that it would support four new Anglican congregations in New England, including two on Cape Cod and two in New Hampshire, that would seek oversight from a conservative bishop from outside the United States.

"There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together," the Lambeth Commission said in its 93-page report. "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."

The Episcopal Church, with two million members, is one of 38 provinces of the 70 million member Anglican Communion; 18 of the 38 provinces have expressed opposition to the actions of the Episcopal Church and its Canadian counterpart.

The report was approved unanimously, despite broad ideological diversity on the panel. The Lambeth Commission's chairman, Archbishop Robert H. A. Eames, said the report sought reconciliation rather than punishment.

Archbishop Drexel W. Gomez of the West Indies, a leader of the conservative wing of the church and a member of the Lambeth Commission, said the report "represents the highest degree of consensus that was attainable."

"I am hopeful that the unanimous position of the commission will encourage the Episcopal Church USA to rethink its position," Gomez said. "If they remain fixed in their views, then a confrontation is inevitable."

The report was generally welcomed by liberals and greeted more warily by conservatives.

"We were concerned that ECUSA might be expelled or not invited to the Lambeth conference," said the Rev. Giles Goddard, a spokesman for, a 9,000-member organization based in London that supports allowing gay bishops. "But what is the best of this report is that it enables us to continue to speak with each other, to move forward."


And the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, a Washington-based organization of gay and lesbian Episcopalians, said "this is an extraordinary opportunity for us to tell our stories -- we've been invited to do that by the commission -- and one of the best things may be that we're going to be talking to gay and lesbian Christians, not just about them."

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