The nation's Episcopal bishops have called a temporary halt to the naming of new bishops and the establishment of formal blessings for same-sex couples, saying the church needs "time for healing" after an international outcry over the election of a gay bishop in New Hampshire.
The moratorium will remain in effect for at least 15 months, until the church's next General Convention, in June 2006. More than 1,000 lay delegates, priests and bishops are scheduled to convene that month in Columbus, Ohio, for what is shaping up as a fierce debate over homosexuality, the Bible and the value of remaining in step with the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, head of the 2.3 million-member denomination, said the moratorium was approved nearly unanimously on Tuesday by 140 bishops "of widely varying opinions" at a retreat in Navasota, Tex. "It was clear that the overwhelming majority of bishops wanted to find a place to stand together," he said in a telephone interview.
Griswold described the decision as a "conciliatory step" toward the leaders of some Anglican churches, particularly in Africa, who have cut ties to the U.S. church since the November 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson.
Last year, the heads of the communion's 38 churches urged the Episcopal Church to apologize for ordaining Robinson without sufficiently consulting other Anglicans. They also recommended that the U.S. church impose a moratorium on ordaining any more bishops living in same-sex relationships, and that it refrain from allowing blessings for gay couples.
Since then, Episcopal leaders have apologized for causing anguish to other Anglicans but have not said they were wrong. The "Covenant Statement" adopted in Texas continued to take that line, expressing "deep regret for the pain that others have experienced."
The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, a 30-year-old advocacy group for gay Episcopalians, said she was pleased that the bishops called a halt to the naming of any new bishops, not just gay ones. "They're saying that unity is important but so is justice, so the whole church will bear the burden," she said.
But the Rev. David C. Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, which stands for orthodoxy in the church, said he was outraged that the moratorium would apply to "a bishop-elect who is lawfully married to a person of the opposite sex." Anderson also said the moratorium on same-sex blessings was a "phony baloney" move that would not stop priests from performing informal rites.
The archbishop of Canterbury, titular head of the Anglican Communion, issued a statement calling the bishops' decision a "constructive response."