N.H. Episcopalians Claim Allegations Are Character Assassination

Episcopalians (search) in New Hampshire on Monday denounced allegations involving "touching" and "pornography" involving the Rev. Gene Robinson (search), whom they elected as their bishop in June.

"My response to that is that's preposterous," said Robyn Cotton, a member of the congregation at St. Paul's Church in Concord (search).

Robinson, who is openly gay, needs approval from delegates to the church's General Convention to become bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. His candidacy drew intense opposition from conservatives, who said they would consider breaking away from the church if he was confirmed.

"I think it is those who are clearly upset and clearly worried that he would soon become bishop that are trumping up allegations," Cotton said. "At the last minute [before the vote], don't you find that a little bit weird?"

"This is horrible," she added. "It's character assassination."

Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, has been attending the convention with his daughter and partner of 13 years, Mark Andrew.

New Hampshire Episcopalians who know Robinson and elected him to bishop in June were in shock and disbelief about the allegations.

The Rev. R. Cassius L. Webb of St. Luke's church in Charlestown and Union church in Claremont called the announcement "a desperate delaying tactic. It's one of those things where sometimes people in the church think they're doing God's will and will do strange things.

"I cannot imagine that there's anything in it," Webb said. "I've known Gene ever since he came into the diocese and known him through his divorce and becoming attached to Mark and I've never known his behavior to be anything more than exemplary."

The Rev. David Jones, rector of St. Paul's Church in Concord, said a very extensive background check was done on all the candidates.

"If any of this proved true I would be stunned," said Jones, who was co-chairman of the search committee that screened all the candidates. "To me it sounds like dirty politics. This is so close to the end that I don't know."

JoAnn Samson of Concord, who has been very active in the church for 20 years and has been against Robinson's election, would only say "I'm leaving it up to God."