Ronald Haines; Bishop of Episcopal Diocese

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.

Ronald Hayward Haines was born Aug. 14, 1934, in Wilmington, Del., and grew up in New Castle, Del. At the University of Delaware, he was a varsity lacrosse player and intramural light-heavyweight boxing champion.

He received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1956 and began his career as an engineer with the old Reynolds Metals Co. in Richmond. He joined a metals engineering firm in New York in 1962 and grew interested in ministry when his wife had a serious illness.

He graduated in 1965 from the George Mercer Jr. Memorial School of Theology in New York and, in 1967 received a master of divinity degree from the city's General Theological Seminary. He obtained a master's degree in sacred theology from the seminary in 1978.

Ordained in 1967, Bishop Haines served in two churches in New York before moving to Rutherfordton, N.C., where he ministered to black and white congregations. In 1981, he was named deputy to the bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina and developed a reputation as an excellent administrator.

Five years later, he was elected suffragan bishop, or second in command of the Washington diocese, which includes the District and four counties in Maryland. In his "vision statement" for the diocese, Bishop Haines declared that his goal was to build a community "where all are accepted and none are despised."

Bishop Haines helped put the diocese on sound financial footing and supervised the affairs of the National Cathedral and its three schools. He appeared in the pulpit with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu in South Africa and raised more than $1 million for hurricane relief in Central America.

In 1992, he named Jane Holmes Dixon suffragan bishop, the first woman to hold that title in the Washington diocese. After he retired in 2000, he moved to Pennsylvania and returned to parish ministry in Lancaster and Manheim, serving until shortly before his death.

In 1994, his son Jeffrey sued an Episcopal priest and other church leaders in North Carolina, saying he had been sexually molested for 12 years. The case was settled out of court.

In addition to his son Thomas Jeffrey Haines of Kittery Point, Maine, Bishop Haines's survivors include his wife of 51 years, Mary T. Haines of Lancaster; five other children, Jennifer Haines Tozier of Advance, N.C., Alicia Haines Pearson and Ronald Gregory Haines, both of Tacoma, Wash., Jonathan Andrew Haines of Portland, Ore., and Peter Joshua Haines of Rockville; 16 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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