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Anglican Panel to Seek Apology For Gay Bishop's Consecration

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 16, 2004; Page A03

The Episcopal Church leaders who consecrated a gay bishop in New Hampshire last year will be asked to apologize Monday by an international panel appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, church officials said.

Two church officials who have been briefed on the report's contents said it will call for the approximately 50 U.S. bishops who consecrated Bishop V. Gene Robinson to express regret for the crisis they have caused in the Anglican Communion, a 77 million-member family of churches descended from the Church of England.



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But the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the report will not call for the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church USA to be cast out of the communion, as some conservative Anglicans have suggested. Nor, they said, will the report recommend Robinson's removal. "There is no undoing of the action," a senior church leader said.

In addition to seeking an apology, officials said the report will ask all 38 autonomous churches in the communion, including the U.S. church, to sign onto a "core covenant" as a mechanism to ensure unity.

A spokesman for Robinson said he will not comment before the official release of the report.

Robinson, 57, who is divorced and lives with a male partner, was elected by Episcopalians in New Hampshire in June 2003. The U.S. church's national convention approved the choice after a ferocious debate two months later, and the bishops formally laid hands on him at a consecration ceremony in November 2003.

As the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, Robinson instantly became a symbol of deep division over homosexuality, the authority of scripture and the changing demographics of global Christianity.

Opposition to his consecration has come not only from conservatives in this nation, but also from Anglican leaders in Africa, Asia and South America who accuse the U.S. church of breaking faith with Christians in the developing world. Nigeria alone has seven times as many Anglicans as the United States, and theology and worship practices in the Third World tend to be more traditional than in Europe and North America.

A year ago, as some Anglican churches around the world declared themselves in "broken communion" with the Episcopal Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams appointed a 17-member panel to make recommendations on how to maintain unity.

Chaired by Ireland's Archbishop Robin Eames, the commission convened three times, took testimony from Anglicans on all sides of the debate and is to issue a unanimous, 80-page report in London on Monday.

Eames has said publicly that the commission will not render a judgment on homosexuality, which is beyond its mandate. But he told an Irish synod this week that the report "has teeth."

Because they have not read the report, the church officials who described it to The Washington Post said they did not know exactly how the call for an apology is worded, which they said will be important.

"Some request that the Episcopal Church acknowledge and recognize the deep pain that this has occasioned in other parts of the Anglican Communion . . . is fair enough," a senior U.S. church leader said.

But an apology that suggests Robinson's consecration was theologically wrong "does become highly problematic, because certainly no one who participated in the ordination of Bishop Robinson felt they were doing something contrary to the motions of the Holy Spirit," he said.

The Rev. Kendall S. Harmon, a leader of the conservative American Anglican Council, said an apology "could be helpful but is not sufficient" and, in his view, is not the most important of the report's expected recommendations.

Harmon said defenders of Anglican orthodoxy are more interested in the call for a core covenant. Based on his conversations with church leaders, he said, he does not expect the covenant to include an explicit position against homosexuality but believes it will ask all 38 Anglican churches, or provinces, to pledge to live within common bounds.

"It's setting up a mechanism whereby this cannot happen again, but doing it in a way that will respect the self-governance of each province," he said.


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