Church to Vote Today on Gay Bishop-Elect, Probe Clears Him of Misconduct Allegations

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The priest seeking to become the Episcopal Church's (search) first openly gay bishop was cleared Tuesday of the 11th-hour misconduct allegations that threatened his chances of being confirmed, and a vote on his confirmation will take place late in the afternoon.

Bishop Gordon Scruton of Western Massachusetts, who conducted the investigation, said he determined that there was no need for a full-blown inquiry of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson (search).

Allegations surfaced Monday that Robinson had inappropriately touched a man and that he was connected to a group whose Web site can indirectly link users to pornography.

Scruton said the touching incident "was in public view and was brief" and happened at a church meeting where Robinson put his hand on the man's back and arm while engaged in a conversation.

"In both allegations it is my conclusion that there is no necessity to pursue further investigation," Scruton said in a speech to bishops.

The ruling allowed bishops from around the country to proceed with their debate about whether Robinson should be New Hampshire's bishop and to vote whether to ratify his election by the diocese. Results of the vote are expected at any time. It is the final approval he needs to win the job.

New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Theuner, who is retiring, addressed critics who had said the diocese was trying to impose a "gay agenda" on the church, saying, "New Hampshire is not particularly an epicenter of gay culture."

He also noted the protests from conservative bishops in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. member. When New Hampshire chose Robinson, it wasn't thinking about "how it would play in Singapore or Lagos or Sydney or anywhere else," Theuner said.

He acknowledged that the election of Robinson had caused a "burden" for the church, but said they felt he was the best candidate for the job.

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, an opponent of Robinson, urged his fellow bishops to reject the gay bishop, saying it would invite "chaos and loss."

The claim of inappropriate touching was e-mailed to Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely by David Lewis of Manchester, Vt. A family friend said Tuesday that Lewis never intended the allegations to go public.

In the e-mail, Lewis said Robinson "does not maintain appropriate boundaries with men." He said he met Robinson at a church event and "he put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation," which Lewis termed "sexual harassment."

Scruton said he spoke with Lewis by phone Monday afternoon and Lewis told him that, at a public church event in November 1999, Robinson "put his left hand on the individual's arm and his right hand on the individual's upper back" as Robinson answered a question Lewis had asked.

Scruton said the other encounter occurred when Lewis turned to make a comment to Robinson and the clergyman "touched the individual's forearm and back while responding with his own comment."

Scruton said he asked Lewis if he wanted to proceed with a written complaint and he "indicated he had no desire to pursue the matter any further."

"He said he was thankful the church had taken this seriously and that he felt `listened to,"' Scruton said.

Separate concerns were raised about Robinson's connection to the Web site of Outright, a secular outreach program for gay and bisexual youth that Robinson helped found in Concord, N.H.

Scruton said he had investigated the Web link "at the request of an American Anglican Council representative." The council, which represents conservative parishes and bishops, has been among the most outspoken opponents to Robinson's confirmation.

Scruton said Robinson ended his association with Outright in 1998 and "was not aware that the organization has a Web site until this convention."

The gathering was thrown into turmoil after several days of intense debate over whether Robinson's election would strengthen or shatter the church. Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, has been living with his male partner for 13 years.

Robinson's supporters had called the timing of the allegations suspicious. His opponents had acknowledged they helped bring forward the Web site claim against him.

Robinson was elected by his diocese in June, but the church requires that a majority of convention delegates ratify his election.

On Sunday, the House of Deputies (search), a legislative body comprised of clergy and lay people from dioceses nationwide, approved Robinson by a 2-to-1 margin; a committee endorsed him by secret ballot Friday.

The American Anglican Council (search), which represents conservative bishops and parishes, plans a meeting in October to decide whether to break away from the church or take some other action if Robinson is seated.

Like-minded bishops in the Anglican Communion (search), the 77-million-member global association that includes the Episcopal Church, said they, too, will consider severing ties with the denomination if Robinson wins.

Robinson has rejected calls from conservatives that he withdraw from consideration to prevent a breakup of the church, as a gay clergyman did recently in England.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.