- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Episcopal parishes in Connecticut may bless same-sex couples, the state’s bishop announced Saturday.

Bishop Andrew Smith’s decision does not create an official prayer service for the blessings and does not allow Episcopal clergy to officiate at civil unions, but it allows parishes to acknowledge homosexual couples who have had civil unions granted by the state.

“What I have permitted is a pastoral ministry of blessing, which does not mimic a wedding ceremony,” Bishop Smith said Saturday after the diocese’s two-day annual convention.

The bishop said he acted because Connecticut began recognizing civil unions last year but the national Episcopal Church has made no movement on the issue. Each diocese handles the issue differently, with some allowing parishes to decide on their own whether they should bless homosexual couples and others barring the practice.

At the heart of the matter is whether the church will “bless persons who are homosexual and partnered as cherished and fully accepted members of the Body of Christ,” Bishop Smith told the convention.

The Rev. Pat Gallagher, who leads St. Paul’s Church in Willimantic, greeted the decision with joy.

“I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “I’m just so excited about it. It’s a right we should have.”

The Rev. Christopher Leighton, rector at St. Paul’s Church in Darien, called Bishop Smith a “perpetrator of false teaching” and said his decision defied “Scripture and worldwide Christianity.”

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism. The global Anglican Communion is struggling to stay unified despite deep divisions over how to interpret the Bible on many issues, including homosexual clergy and same-sex relationships.

The 2003 election of the first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, caused an uproar among overseas Anglican leaders, who have asked the U.S. denomination to stop ordaining homosexual bishops for now and to temporarily refrain from developing official prayer ceremonies for same-sex couples.

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