- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

A homosexual clergyman’s election as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire was delayed yesterday as church officials investigated his links to a homosexual youth group and charges that he sexually harassed another man.

Episcopal leaders meeting in Minneapolis had been scheduled to vote to approve Canon V. Gene Robinson as the church’s first openly homosexual bishop until the 11th-hour accusation by a Vermont man, who said Mr. Robinson’s advances toward him at a church convention showed an “alarming weakness of character.”

That accusation became public the same day Episcopalians learned that Outright, a homosexual youth ministry founded by Mr. Robinson, included links to hard-core pornography on its Web site.

Mr. Robinson, 56, was elected bishop by New Hampshire Episcopalians on June 7, but his selection must be ratified by a majority of clergy, laity and bishops at this week’s Episcopal General Convention. Conservatives in the church have criticized the nomination of Mr. Robinson, a father of two who divorced his wife in 1987 and has had a homosexual lover for 13 years.

Among accomplishments, Mr. Robinson cites his role in founding the Concord, N.H., chapter of Outright, an organization whose mission — described at www.outright.org — is to “create safe, positive and affirming environments for young gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and questioning people ages 22 and under.”

As late as Sunday night, the Outright site included links to a pornographic site that features explicit photos of group sex, including close-ups of genitalia.

Other links available at the Outright site yesterday included a Web site describing “sexual intimacy for gay men with AIDS/HIV,” another link describing “the wonderful world of lesbianism” and another named “polyamory resources,” referring to the practice of one person having several mates.

“This is youth ministry like you have never seen it,” cyber-journalist David Virtue observed.

The charges of sexual harassment against Mr. Robinson were made by David Lewis of Manchester, Vt. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Lewis told several Episcopal bishops that Mr. Robinson fondled him at a regional church gathering.

“When I first encountered Gene at a Province 1 convocation a couple of years ago, he put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation,” said an e-mail attributed to Mr. Lewis that was widely circulated yesterday at the Episcopal convention in Minneapolis.

“No gay man has ever behaved toward me this way,” the e-mail said. “If I were a straight woman reporting heterosexual harassment from a straight male priest, would you hesitate to take the matter seriously? Well, I am a straight man, reporting harassment from a gay man from another diocese.”

Reuters news agency reported that the note also said, “My personal experience with him is he does not maintain appropriate boundaries with men. I believe this is an alarming weakness of character that alone makes Gene unsuitable for the office of bishop.”

Attempts to reach Mr. Lewis by telephone yesterday were unsuccessful. A staff member of the Manchester Journal confirmed that Mr. Lewis is a contributor to that Vermont weekly.

Seth Bongartz, a lawyer in Manchester who told AP that he knows Mr. Lewis “fairly well,” said he is married with two children and apparently training to become an Episcopal priest.

The harassment accusation fell like a bomb on a gathering of thousands of Episcopal priests, laity and bishops who, along with 300 reporters, were gathered in Minneapolis for what many thought was inevitable approval of Mr. Robinson’s nomination by the Episcopal House of Bishops.

Bruce Mason, spokesman for the American Anglican Council, a conservative group opposing Mr. Robinson’s election, said word leaked out about 1 p.m. that the vote had been postponed.

“All the bishops were prepared to march in there and do their thing and then everything just blew up,” he said. “We’re just sitting here stunned because this has changed the picture here dramatically.”

The links from the homosexual youth group’s Web site to explicit material had been a topic of discussion among delegates for days, he added.

“Gene was holding it up as one of his proud achievements,” Mr. Mason said. “Well, people started looking at [the Outright.org site] and expressing concern to various bishops. I think Gene’s got a lot to answer to right now.”

After a 45-minute executive session in the afternoon, the Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop for the 2.3-million-member denomination, announced the vote would be postponed while Western Massachusetts Bishop Gordon P. Scruton conducted an investigation.

It was not known whether the investigation can be completed by the time the convention ends Friday. But Mr. Robinson’s backers in the New Hampshire diocese and in the homosexual advocacy group Integrity said the charges are groundless.

Asked whether Mr. Robinson should withdraw until cleared, the Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity, responded, “Absolutely not,” reported Episcopal News Service.

All votes at General Convention must be approved by both houses. The Episcopal House of Deputies, including the dioceses of Maryland, Washington and Virginia, approved Mr. Robinson’s election by a 2-to-1 margin Sunday.

A total of 24 bishops — not nearly enough to mount a serious challenge — were known to oppose Mr. Robinson’s nomination. The Rev. Peter Lee, Episcopal bishop of Virginia, yesterday posted a letter on the diocesan Web site, www.thediocese.net, announcing his intentions.

“I am convinced of the need to respect the Diocese of New Hampshire’s decision, in spite of my personal reservations and our current diocesan policy, which would not permit Canon Robinson to be ordained in Virginia,” Bishop Lee said.

“His consecration as a bishop does not change Virginia’s policy that we believe the normative context for sexual intimacy is lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage.”

Mr. Robinson, who would have been seated immediately in the House of Bishops, earlier told Agence France-Presse, “If the House of Bishops does not give confirmation … my election is null and void, and I would never, ever, participate in any kind of move to be consecrated outside the canonical procedures.”

The conservative American Anglican Council will meet in October to decide whether to leave the church if Mr. Robinson is ordained. Bishops elsewhere in the worldwide Anglican Communion have said they may sever ties in that event.

Canon David Anderson, the council’s president, said he hoped Mr. Robinson would be rejected regardless of the accusations.

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