Bishops of the Episcopal Church today overwhelmingly adopted a "conscience clause" that would exempt from compliance those bishops or priests who in conscience disagree with the church's decision a year ago to open its priesthood to women.
The bishops also adopted over-whelmingly a theological statement that condemns homosexuality as un-Biblical, Bars ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood, and forbids priests of the church from blessing homosexual marriages.
But they sidestepped a proposal to censure one of their number. Bishop Paul Moore Jr. of New York, for ordaining a homosexual woman last January. After bitter and impassioned statements on both sides of the question, the censure measure was tabled.
A year ago, the church's top legislative body, the General Convention, of which the House of Bishops is one part, approved women's ordination. More than 60 women have become priests since that decision.
Today's action means that no bishop can be required to ordain a woman. A bishop who "conscientiously objects" may also bar an already ordained woman priest from his diocese even if one of his parishes wants to employ her as its priest.
The adoption of the conscience clause reflects an attempt to prevent threatened walkouts from the church by opponents of women priests.
Bishop CLarence Haden of Sacramento, Calif., one of the bitterest foes of women priests, brought that threat to the debate this afternoon. Nothing that a Christian must follow his conscience and be willing to "pay the penalty," he said: "I'm quite willing to pay the penalty. You press me too far and I have no other recourse than to go to the dissidents, small groups who have already broken from the church) and say, 'You are not alone.'"
But Bishop Thomas Fraser of Raleigh, N.C., expressed concern for long-range implications of the bishops' action today. "If we are not careful in dealing with conscience clauses, we'll abdicate our leadership to the consience clause," he said.
In their theological statement on homosexuality, the bishops asserted that the Bible "rejects homosexual practice," and therefore the church "is right to confine its nuptial blessing exclusively to heterosexual marriage," fine its nuptial blessing exclusively to heterosexual marriage."
The paper distinguished between "advocating and practicing" homosexuals, who is said could not be ordained to the priesthood, and persons with "a dominant homosexual orientation" who could be priests if they remained celibate.
Much of the dispute over the proposed censure of Bishop Moore revolved around news reports that the Rev. Ellen Barrett, whom he ordained last January, was an "advocating" or "practicing" homosexual. In response to repeated requests for substantive information as to whether the reports were accurate. Bishop Harold Robinson of Buffalo, N.Y., who brought the censure resolution, said he had no detailed information, then retorted: "If she was not a professed homosexual, then why all this commotion?"
In a dramatic statement he had prepared before had. More appealed during the debate today for rejection of the censure resolution lest the action set off a "McCarthy-like purge" of the censure resolution lest the acual priests now quiently serving the Episcopal Church.