Obituaries

Ronald Haines; Bishop of Episcopal Diocese

Bishop Ronald H. Haines sparked protests when he ordained the Rev. Elizabeth L. Carl, a lesbian.
Bishop Ronald H. Haines sparked protests when he ordained the Rev. Elizabeth L. Carl, a lesbian. (1999 Photo By The Washington Post)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ronald H. Haines, 73, who was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington throughout the 1990s and ignited a stormy dispute when he ordained a lesbian priest, died March 21 of cancer at his home in Lancaster, Pa.

Bishop Haines was named acting bishop of the Washington diocese in September 1989 upon the death of John T. Walker, the diocese's first African American bishop. Formally elected bishop on June 30, 1990, Bishop Haines became in effect the second most powerful figure in the Episcopal Church, after the presiding bishop of the full denomination.

Less than a year later, Bishop Haines ordained the Rev. Elizabeth L. Carl, an open lesbian who was pastor at Church of the Epiphany in Washington. The move sparked a period of protests and internal examination, and the matter still has not been fully resolved within the church.

During the ordination ceremony June 5, 1991, Bishop Haines asked whether there was any "impediment or crime" to prevent Carl from becoming a priest. Two people, including a priest of 50 years' standing, came forward to declare that homosexuality was inappropriate in a church leader.

Bishop Haines turned to the congregation and asked, "Is it your will that Elizabeth be ordained a priest?"

Responding in unison, the congregation said, "It is."

"The ordination of one whose life style involves sexual relations outside of marriage troubles me greatly," Bishop Haines said in a statement at the time. But he determined that Carl's character and priestly commitment, as well as the support of her congregation, outweighed the voices of opposition.

"He listened to both sides, always, and he didn't turn away from anyone," the Rev. Erica Brown Wood, who was ordained by Bishop Haines, said yesterday. "He did all of that with a great deal of courage and strength. He was deeply, deeply appreciated for his sense of inclusion."

According to a 1992 article in The Washington Post, one of the bishop's most vocal critics was his wife, Mary, an antiabortion activist who was vice president of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life. She even favored her husband's censure, which he narrowly avoided, at a national gathering of bishops.

"All our family opposed the ordination, except maybe one," Bishop Haines's son Joshua said in 1992.

Bishop Haines told The Post that his mind had been opened by the diverse backgrounds of church members in the 42,000-strong Washington diocese and by his experience in raising a gay son.

"I saw the pain and the anguish that comes with secret-keeping," he said.


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