U.S. Episcopal bishops expressed regret yesterday for having consecrated the group's first openly gay bishop but said they need more time to respond to a call that they halt such ordinations and stop blessing same-sex marriages.
The issue, which threatens the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Church with schism, also swept the largest U.S. Lutheran denomination on the same day.
In that separate development, a divided task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declined to recommend that the denomination bless same-sex unions or approve the ordination of ministers involved in gay relationships, but the task force called on congregants to work for ways to "live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements."
The status of gays is a question causing debate and pain in a number of Christian churches. For the Anglicans, it reached a new level in 2003 with the consecration of V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the church's first bishop known to be in a same-sex relationship.
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, after a two-day meeting in Salt Lake City, issued a statement expressing their "sincere regret for the pain, the hurt and the damage caused . . . by certain actions of our church." The bishops said the apology was "a sign of our deep desire" to remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the 2.3 million-member church, said the apology was a direct response to a report requested by the Anglican church leadership last October that urged the North American bishops not only to express their regret but also to impose a moratorium on liturgies blessing same-sex marriages and the consecrating of gay bishops.
While Griswold said the bishops had insufficient time to reach a consensus, 21 bishops issued a dissent in which they said they are ready to accept the Anglican recommendations.
Meanwhile, the report issued by the Lutheran task force will be weighed by that group's 5 million members in the United States and the Caribbean ahead of consideration by a churchwide assembly in Florida in August.
The task force backed a 1993 statement by its Conference of Bishops, which said pastors and congregations can be trusted to exercise "wisdom and discretion" in ministering to same-sex couples.
The group's policy says no pastor may engage in heterosexual or homosexual relations outside marriage -- and it defines marriage as a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman. The group does allow gay pastors who remain celibate.