COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Episcopal General Convention approached another defining vote a day after electing its first female presiding bishop: whether the church should temporarily bar gays from becoming bishops to preserve Anglican fellowship.
Delegates have been considering a moratorium at the request of world Anglican leaders, who remain angry over the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop — V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The matter was headed to a scheduled floor debate and possible vote Monday afternoon.
The denomination is the U.S. arm of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion. If overseas leaders dislike the outcome of this week's meeting, the association of 38 national churches could splinter apart. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion's spiritual leader, has expressed concern that the feud over homosexuality and the Bible will cause a permanent rift.
The situation has been complicated by Sunday's election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first Episcopal presiding bishop — the first woman ever to lead an Anglican province. Only two other Anglican provinces — New Zealand and Canada — have female bishops and many Anglicans believe women should not be ordained.
Williams released a brief statement Monday acknowledging that the choice of Jefferts Schori would cause problems among Anglicans, but pledged his support "as she takes up a deeply demanding position at a critical time."
In a 2004 document called the Windsor Report, Anglicans asked the Episcopal Church for the prohibition on homosexual bishops, a temporary ban on developing official prayers for blessing same-sex couples and an apology for the turmoil caused by Robinson's confirmation.
An Episcopal committee drafted legislation in response to the report which stops short of a ban on homosexual bishops. Instead, it urges dioceses to "refrain from" choosing bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church."
The measure on same-gender blessing ceremonies directs "this General Convention not proceed to develop or authorize" any such liturgies, while using wording that leaves open the possibility that individual dioceses and priests could conduct the ceremonies informally.
The proposals also include an "expression of regret" to Anglicans for failing to properly consult them before consecrating Robinson, and an apology for "the consequences that followed." Episcopal leaders have repeatedly apologized for the trouble their actions have caused, but they have not expressed regret for the act of confirming the New Hampshire bishop.
Delegates can revise or reject the measures. Debate was to begin in the House of Deputies, comprised of lay people and clergy. The legislation that deputies approve then goes to the House of Bishops for their approval.
Also Monday, one of three Episcopal dioceses that rejects ordaining women appealed to Williams for help over Jefferts Schori's election. Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, read a short statement from the convention floor asking Williams to put the diocese under the oversight of another Anglican leader. The two other dioceses that do not accept women priests are Quincy, Illinois, and San Joaquin, California, but the overwhelmingly majority of Episcopalians support women's ordination.