NEW YORK – An Episcopal Church panel studying the furor over the denomination's first openly gay bishop proposed Friday that dioceses use "very considerable caution" from now on in electing bishops with same-sex partners, but stopped short of the moratorium critics demanded.
The commission also recommended that the American church offer "apology and repentance" for the turmoil its actions caused within the global Anglican Communion, and said dioceses should stop creating blessing ceremonies for same-gender couples, at least temporarily.
The suggestions are among several that will go before a June meeting of the top Episcopal legislative body, called the General Convention, which can revise or reject the proposals. The outcome of their debate will be critical, shaping not only the future of the American church, but also its role as the U.S. representative of world Anglicanism.
The Communion has been in disarray since 2003, when delegates to the last General Convention approved the election of V. Gene Robinson as New Hampshire bishop. Robinson lives with his longtime male partner, and his consecration was greeted by many Episcopalians as a triumph for gay acceptance.
However, the majority of overseas Anglican leaders are conservatives who believe the Bible bars homosexual relationships. They are demanding that the Episcopal Church adhere to that interpretation or leave the Communion.
The 14-member Episcopal commission will ask General Convention delegates to recommend that dioceses "exercise very considerable caution" in electing bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." The panel said in an explanatory note that some of its members had advocated for tougher wording, suggesting dioceses "refrain from" electing gay bishops.
The commission also proposed that the General Convention offer "our sincerest apology and repentance" for the pain the church has caused other Anglican provinces.
The panel also wants a moratorium on bishops authorizing liturgies for same-sex blessing ceremonies. Still, the commission affirmed the need for "individual pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians" — wording that leaves open the possibility that individual priests could conduct such ceremonies.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, head of the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church, and the denomination's House of Bishops, have repeatedly expressed their desire to remain within the Communion. The commission underscored that goal in its proposals.
But their efforts could be undermined even before the convention begins.
On May 6, the Diocese of California is scheduled to elect a new bishop and three of the seven candidates for the post have same-sex partners. The winner of that election cannot be consecrated without approval from the General Convention, which has a long history of deferring to dioceses' choice of leader. Griswold said last month it would create "definite difficulty" between the denomination and Anglicans if the California Diocese elects an openly gay bishop.