- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

Virginia Episcopalians yesterday voted to “express regret” for their role in ordaining a homosexual bishop in 2003 and agreed to stop ordaining such clergy “until some new consensus” emerges in the church.

The near-unanimous vote capped a two-day annual conference in which leaders from the Diocese of Virginia spoke frequently about the need for “reconciliation” and “mutual submission” to each other.

The Rt. Rev. Peter J. Lee, bishop of the diocese, was unable to attend because he was preparing for heart surgery. But he told the nearly 1,000 church leaders in a video statement that they should “live lives of mutual submission to one another” and not “create stumbling blocks for others in the life of faith.”

This message, and much of the conference’s work, was aimed at healing discord that erupted after the national Episcopal Church voted in August 2003 to ordain openly homosexual V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson is divorced and living with a male companion.

Much of the worldwide Anglican Communion protested the unprecedented ordination, and in October, a special international panel issued a 93-page report outlining how the worldwide Anglican Community can remain united despite disagreements over human sexuality.

The 89,000-member Virginia Diocese is the largest U.S. Episcopal diocese, and Bishop Lee was one of many to approve Bishop Robinson’s ordination. But many Virginia parishes were upset about the move and reduced or withheld their donations to the diocese, costing it around $860,000, or 19 percent of its 2004 budget.

In his statement presented Friday at the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Bishop Lee said when the national church confirmed Bishop Robinson, it acted “unilaterally” and “without proper regard to the need for mutual submission to the concerns of the worldwide Anglican Communion.”

“I regret that,” he said. “At the same time, it is important to recognize that most of the churches of the Anglican Communion are deficient in their regard for homosexual persons within the church.”

Bishop Lee also said the Virginia Diocese would continue to refrain from conducting “public rites of blessing of same-gender unions” and he promised that he “will refrain from consenting to the consecration as bishop of any person living in a same-gender relationship until there is a wider consensus about the appropriateness of such a person for leadership in the church.”

Yesterday, members of the annual conference passed a resolution that “expresses regret for this diocese’s share of responsibility” for the actions taken in August 2003, and agreed to a moratorium on electing homosexuals to the episcopate “until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.” They also agreed to study a reconciliation report prepared by a church-sponsored commission.

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