Church panel clears Presbyterian leader

BY Advocate.com Editors

March 21 2003 12:00 AM ET

A Presbyterian Church (USA) panel has cleared a church leader who refused to convene a special meeting of the church's General Assembly to address calls to enforce the church's ban on gay clergy. But the 2.5 million-member denomination's Permanent Judicial Commission still rebuked the Reverend Fahed Abu-Akel, saying he overstepped his jurisdiction by imploring petitioners who sought the showdown to reconsider. Abu-Akel, an Atlanta minister, is the church's moderator, or elected titular head of the denomination. Wednesday's ruling "could not have been worded more strongly," said Paul Rolf Jensen, the attorney for the Ohio complainant who pressed for the panel's trial this week over Abu-Akel's actions.

In January a Presbyterian elder in California presented Abu-Akel a petition seeking a "special assembly" to address the issue. It had the required number of signatures by clergy and lay members of last year's General Assembly, the faith's main legislative body. Abu-Akel wrote to the petitioners, lobbying against the special assembly, which he said would cost $500,000 and divert attention from other church work. Thirteen signers withdrew their names, leaving petitioners short of the minimum needed by church law to call the meeting. The special assembly would have been the first held by the 214-year-old denomination, which is based in Louisville, Ky.

The flap underscores the tension within the denomination, where conservatives have been critical of what they view as the refusal of higher church officials to discipline congregations proclaiming willingness to ordain noncelibate gays in defiance of church law.

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