- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

The Episcopal House of Bishops last night elected the denomination’s first declared homosexual bishop, one day after his candidacy was threatened by accusations that he fondled a male parishioner and condoned pornography.

By a vote of 62 to 45 at the denomination’s session in Minneapolis, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, 56, was elected the bishop of New Hampshire. He will be consecrated early next year.

“God has once again brought an Easter out of Good Friday,” Mr. Robinson said after the votes were tabulated.

Episcopalians follow the United Church of Christ as the second mainline Protestant denomination to endorse actively homosexual clergy. Mr. Robinson’s supporters hailed his election as a human rights triumph of major proportions, but others said it was a tragic turning point in the Episcopal Church that could lead to schism.

The Rev. Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, in a speech from the podium just after the results were announced at 8 p.m., said he and other conservative bishops were “filled with sorrow.” The Episcopal Church, he said, “has departed from the historic faith and order of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Duncan called on the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and other bishops in the Anglican Communion “to intervene in the pastoral emergency that has overtaken us. May God have mercy on this church.”

Over the next few days, archbishops of the Anglican Communion are expected to line up in opposition to Mr. Robinson’s election.

Archbishop Williams, leader of the Anglican Communion, had opposed the Robinson election. His spokesman said early today in London that the archbishop foresees “difficult days” ahead.

A group of conservative Anglicans called Anglican Mainstream, said to represent more than a quarter of the 77 million Anglicans worldwide, issued a statement expressing regret at Mr. Robinson’s installation. The statement was signed by church leaders from Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America and followers from England, India and elsewhere.

“We expect that primates of the Communion will be meeting soon to consider what action to take,” they said. “Dioceses and parishes in the United States who wish to remain loyal to the Anglican Communion will also be considering their position in the coming weeks.”

One group of conservatives has scheduled a meeting in Dallas in October to discuss their next move.

Five bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and 25 British and European clergy, had issued a statement Monday anticipating the American bishops’ vote and chiding the Episcopalians for their “errant leadership.” The Anglican archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia also had condemned the expected decision.

Last month Archbishop Williams persuaded a candidate for bishop of Reading to withdraw his after it became public that the candidate had been a practicing homosexual years ago. He had repudiated those activities.

Some thought the bishop-elect’s candidacy doomed Monday because of accusations that he sexually harassed another man and had ties to a homosexual youth group that condoned pornography.

One accusation concerned pornographic links from a Web site, www.outright.org, aimed at homosexuals up to age 22. Mr. Robinson helped found the Concord, N.H., chapter of Outright, and his participation in the group was listed in the biographical materials submitted for his candidacy as bishop.

The other accusation was made by David Lewis, 50, a Vermont resident who said, in an e-mail dispatched to an Episcopal bishop on Sunday, that Mr. Robinson fondled him at a church convention several years ago. He said Mr. Robinson “does not maintain appropriate boundaries with men” and begged the bishops not to elect him.

The Rev. Gordon P. Scruton, the bishop of Western Massachusetts, was charged Monday to make a preliminary investigation into the accusations. Bishop Scruton said he concluded that the election could go forward.

At issue, he said, was an incident in November 1999 when Mr. Robinson touched Mr. Lewis’ back and arms twice while the latter was asking a question.

Mr. Lewis sent the e-mail, with the accusation, to Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont after the denomination’s lay arm, the House of Deputies, voted to send the selection to the bishops for final approval. He told Bishop Ely that he thought Mr. Robinson should not be approved as a bishop. In a conversation yesterday with investigators, Mr. Lewis declined to press his accusation.

“I asked him again if he wished to proceed to file a written complaint,” Bishop Scruton said in a speech to Episcopal bishops yesterday. “Again, he indicated he had no desire to pursue the matter any further. He said he was thankful the church had taken this seriously, and he felt listened to. He also indicated that he was not seeking any personal attention or notoriety, and regrets it was taken this way by some.”

Because the incident was brief and public, he said, no further investigation was needed.

Mr. Robinson’s supporters suggested that the accusations were a last-minute conspiracy intended to thwart his candidacy, and his opponents were taken aback after the election at how quickly matters were reversed.

“I don’t know whether I was more stunned yesterday with the pause in the process and the investigation commencement or startled today that in slightly more than 24 hours, some fairly serious allegations could have been dealt with and dismissed in that fast a manner,” said the Rev. David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, which opposed Mr. Robinson’s election. “I hope they did a good and in-depth job because if they didn’t, the questions will not go away.”

“I am proud to be in a church which works to be a safe place for all of God’s children,” Mr. Robinson said after the election results were announced.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who heads the Episcopal Church in the United States and who backed Mr. Robinson, called it “a difficult moment.”

“I ask you all to be profoundly sensitive to each other,” he said.

Television crews were stationed all day at Zion Episcopal Church, where Mr. Lewis reads Scripture during services, hoping for a glance of Mr. Lewis or his wife, Rose, the church secretary. Neither returned phone calls to their home in Manchester, Vt.

Zion’s senior warden, Louis Midura, told reporters that Mr. Lewis’ e-mail was meant as private.

Until he was laid off last week, Mr. Lewis, who has two children, worked as part-time business secretary for the Manchester School Fund.

“I have nothing to say,” he told the Bennington (Vt.) Banner. “I do not wish to be in a position of being quoted on the subject. To me, it’s a matter of faith and private life.”

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