Plans by Episcopalian leaders to vote on confirming the church's first openly gay elected bishop were thrown into turmoil Monday when allegations emerged that he inappropriately touched a man and was affiliated with a youth Web site that had a link to porn. Presiding bishop Frank Griswold, head of the Episcopal Church, released a statement announcing the delay as debate was about to start on whether to confirm the Reverend V. Gene Robinson as New Hampshire's bishop."Questions have been raised and brought to my attention regarding the bishop-elect of the Diocese of New Hampshire," Griswold said. Griswold said that Robinson, the current New Hampshire bishop, and representatives of his diocese decided together "that a thorough investigation be undertaken before we proceed."
Mike Barwell, a spokesman for Robinson, said Robinson planned to release a statement later Monday. James Solheim, a church spokesman, said the allegations of inappropriate touching had been E-mailed to bishops. In the E-mail a man who identified himself as David Lewis from Manchester, Vt., said Robinson "does not maintain appropriate boundaries with men."
Solheim said "some of the bishops have talked to the accuser" and vetted the accusation. Lewis said he had met Robinson at a church event "a couple of years ago" and "he put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation," Lewis wrote.
In addition, current New Hampshire bishop Douglas Theuner said in a statement that the investigation would look at "concerns raised about Canon Robinson" involving "his relationship to a Web site of Outright.org," a secular outreach program for gay and bisexual youth.
Solheim said he did not know how long the investigation would take or if the vote would take place before the church's national meeting ends on Friday.
Robyn Cotton, an Episcopalian in Concord, N.H., and a supporter of Robinson, called the allegations preposterous. "This is horrible. It's character assassination," Cotton said. "It's just horrible. It is so unecessary." Robinson needs approval from delegates to the church's General Convention to become bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. His candidacy drew intense opposition from conservatives, who said they would consider breaking away from the church if he were confirmed.
Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, has been attending the convention with his daughter and his partner of 13 years, Mark Andrew.
On Sunday the House of Deputies, a legislative body comprising clergy and lay people from dioceses nationwide, approved Robinson by a 2-to-1 margin; a committee endorsed him by secret ballot Friday. The House of Bishops, composed of bishops from around the country, had been scheduled to vote on whether to ratify the election on Monday. It is not known when the vote will now be held.
Robinson's chances are unclear. It is rare for the General Convention to reject a diocese's choice of bishops, but the denomination has been deeply divided for decades over homosexuality.
The American Anglican Council, which represents conservative bishops and parishes, plans a meeting in October to decide whether to break away from the church or take some other action if Robinson is seated. Like-minded bishops in the Anglican Communion, the 77 million-member global association that includes the Episcopal Church, said they too will consider severing ties with the denomination if Robinson wins.
Robinson was elected by his diocese in June, but the church requires that a majority of convention delegates ratify his election.
The Episcopal Church has no official policy either for or against ordaining gays. Some Episcopal parishes already allow gay clergy to serve, and gays who did not reveal their sexual orientation have been elected bishop. But Robinson is the first clergyman in the Anglican Communion to live openly as a gay man before being elected.
Robinson has rejected calls from conservatives that he withdraw from consideration to prevent a breakup of the church, as a gay clergyman did recently in England.
If Robinson is rejected, he could try to run again in his next diocesan election, but it is unclear whether he would do so. Asked about his plans if he loses, he said only that he "may do some talking with God and the people of New Hampshire about what to do next."