- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

The battle over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church ratcheted up a notch yesterday when Anglican Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda officially broke relations with the Diocese of Virginia.

In an open letter to Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee, Archbishop Orombi said he was praying for Bishop Lee’s “repentance” and for his return “to the historic faith” of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion.

Bishop Lee also had defrocked a pastor who had sided with the Ugandans over the 2003 consecration of the openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson. In the letter, the archbishop said he “must object, in the most strenuous terms” to the defrocking of the Rev. Philip Ashey.

A number of Virginia clergy also objected to the consecration, but none bolted from the diocese until Mr. Ashey, pastor of South Riding Church in eastern Loudoun County, announced Nov. 14 that his church was joining the Anglican Diocese of Ruwenzori in Uganda.

In response, Bishop Lee expelled Mr. Ashey from the priesthood on Dec. 20, saying the vicar’s switch to Uganda meant that he had renounced ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.

Mr. Ashey’s new boss would be Ruwenzori Bishop Benezeri Kisembo, who was written up in the Kampala Monitor last June for refusing to confirm 62 Christians after they failed to answer questions he asked them about the Bible. The bishop put off the ceremony, saying he would not promote a Christianity based on ignorance.

Archbishop Orombi, who oversees about 8 million Anglicans in 30 Ugandan dioceses, said he considered Bishop Lee’s action against Mr. Ashey as “breaking Communion” — irrevocably cutting ties — with the entire Ugandan church.

“I must object, in the most strenuous terms, to your characterization of Rev. Ashey’s decision… as a renunciation of his holy orders,” the archbishop wrote. “Even those of us for whom English is a second language understand his plain English to mean that he has resigned from the staff of the Diocese of Virginia, but not from his priestly orders.”

He continued, “This kind of reinventing of the plain meaning of a text is the same problem we are facing today throughout the Anglican Communion with regard to bishops and leaders in the [Episcopal Church] reinventing the plain meaning of Scripture.”

Uganda is one of 22 Anglican provinces worldwide that has partially or totally sundered communion with the U.S. Episcopal Church as a body over the Robinson consecration. Rarely do archbishops single out individual dioceses for condemnation — especially the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church. Virginia leads 100 U.S. dioceses with 90,000 members.

Diocesan spokesman Patrick Getlein said Bishop Lee would respond today to Archbishop Orombi’s letter.

Bill Atwood, general secretary of Ekklesia, an international Anglican network active in Africa, said the Ugandan archbishop had taken Bishop Lee’s actions as a personal insult.

Archbishop Orombi is “saying that if you don’t accept [a priest in] our orders, you don’t accept us,” Mr. Atwood said.

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