A special commission of the worldwide Anglican Church on Monday called on leaders of its U.S. affiliate, the Episcopal Church, to express regret for consecrating a gay bishop and proposed a moratorium on further ordination of gays and the blessing of same-sex unions.
In a compromise report designed to heal a rift that has threatened to tear apart the Anglican Communion of 77 million worshipers, the panel did not call for the resignation of the bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, or for formal sanctions against the U.S. church. It faulted opponents of Robinson's consecration for seeking to set up "a parallel jurisdiction" within the worldwide church.
Within hours of the report's publication, Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, issued a statement saying, "We regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our Communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans."
But Griswold stopped short of saying Robinson's ordination was wrong. He said he is "obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry."
Citing Griswold's statement, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who opposes ordination of gays, said the report lacked the teeth to compel the American church to reverse itself. The commission's "terrible weakness," Duncan said in an interview, is that "it is more concerned about keeping the family together than it is about the truth of the Gospel. That is not going to fly very well among the orthodox who have stood against the innovations of the Episcopal Church."
The Irish Anglican leader, Archbishop Robin Eames, who headed the commission, pleaded for both gay rights supporters and traditionalists "to look for healing, not division, for pastoral reconciliation and not punishment." The report, he told reporters in the crypt of London's historic St. Paul's Cathedral, "does not offer any easy judgment on the situation . . . and it does not offer any easy solution either."
Robinson's consecration last November was the latest instance of growing division within the Anglican Communion, a network of 38 self-governing churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.
On one side are people who believe that the Bible explicitly condemns homosexuality; on the other are those who insist the church must be inclusive and recognize sexual differences among Christians.
Opposition to ordination of people who are openly gay is strong among some parishes in Western countries and among Anglican leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America -- the growth centers of the church.
Robinson's consecration last fall triggered a declaration from some Third World churches of "broken communion" with the Episcopal Church. That led Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and the communion's spiritual leader, to set up the 17-member commission.
The report said the Episcopal Church had "caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians both in its own church and in other parts of the Communion" and had flouted guidelines laid down by the communion's leadership in the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution that rejected homosexuality as "incompatible with Scripture."
But it also condemned people who had ignored Williams's pleas for a period of calm by declaring "broken communion" and by arranging for outside clergy to minister to American churchgoers in traditionalist congregations without first consulting with local bishops.
While the report said it honored the autonomy of Anglican churches, it also suggested that the communion adopt a "covenant" that would be binding on all member churches. While a draft proposal for the covenant did not mention homosexuality, it urged that "no minister, especially a bishop . . . act without due regard to or jeopardize the unity of the Communion."
Williams said in a statement that the commission's unanimity "counts as a considerable achievement and a sign of hope."
Bishop John B. Chane of Washington, who took part in Robinson's consecration, told reporters at Washington National Cathedral he was sorry that "actions which were undertaken in good conscience, actions which gave hope to one alienated and marginalized population, have themselves engendered alienation and made others feel marginalized. . . . That was not my intent."
Chane said he would temporarily stop performing same-sex commitment ceremonies while the U.S. church engages in dialogue with fellow Anglican communions around the world. But he said he was "not going to be a policeman" trying to enforce a moratorium on same-sex blessings by priests in the Washington diocese.
"It still remains puzzling to me that no one objects to my baptizing the children of gay parents, blessing their homes, their cars and even their pets, yet I cannot bless the loving relationship which makes this family's life possible without upsetting so many of our Anglican brothers and sisters," he said.
The report consists of recommendations to Williams and the primates, or heads, of the Anglican Communion's 38 constituent churches, who are to meet in Ireland in February. The U.S. church will also weigh the recommendations at a meeting of its 250 active and retired bishops in Salt Lake City in January.
The report suggests that until the U.S. church expresses regret for its actions, the 53 bishops who took part in Robinson's consecration should "consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion."
Griswold, who presided over Robinson's consecration, said he intends to participate in the primates' meetings. He said doing so would be "probably all the more important, not simply to defend myself but to be with my brother primates so, hopefully, we can move toward some form of reconciliation," he said.
Pittsburgh's Bishop Duncan said Griswold's comments would not help heal the rift with his opponents. "The question I pose to our presiding bishop is, in light of what he said . . . how in good conscience can he go on leading a church which has been called on to turn back?" Duncan said in London.
Duncan's Anglican Communion Network, which groups 10 U.S. dioceses and about 200 parishes, has threatened to create an alternative Anglican body in North America. In a few cases, these parishes have refused to accept the authority of their bishops, switching allegiance to like-minded bishops in the United States, Uganda or Bolivia.
The Rev. David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, said he doubted that "orthodox" bishops would heed the commission's call to apologize for crossing diocesan lines. "If your house is on fire and I have to break down the door to rescue your children, should I apologize?" he asked.
Cooperman reported from Washington.