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Gay-friendly priest takes reins of Episcopal Church in Colorado

Gay-friendly priest takes reins of Episcopal Church in Colorado

The Right Reverend Robert O'Neill took over as the leader of Colorado's 35,000 Episcopalians on Thursday. O'Neill, who succeeds retiring bishop Jerry Winterrowd, has inherited the job of trying to mend a rift over decisions by the Episcopal Church to recognize same-sex unions and endorse the church's first openly gay bishop. Even before taking the reins, O'Neill, 48, established a task force to study same-sex unions in Colorado. "I do not expect the task force to solve all the issues before us or make a definitive statement about human sexuality," O'Neill said. Rather, the goal "becomes one of trying to define the common ground on which we stand." O'Neill, who is married with three children, supported the blessing of New Hampshire's gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Conservatives fear he may steer the Colorado church further to the left. His most vocal critic, the Reverend Don Armstrong of Colorado Springs, called O'Neill a "neo-pagan" after his election last summer but has since had several meetings with him. Armstrong said he was encouraged when O'Neill told clergy he would not develop a new statewide rite for same-sex blessings, which some believe was allowed by the national church's resolution last summer. "He's a decent man, we're in the same denomination, and we struggle toward the same faith," Armstrong said. The Reverend Larry Donoghue, a retired gay Episcopal priest from Denver, said gays and lesbians feel hopeful about O'Neill. Donoghue met with O'Neill in December and said they talked about the possibility of one day ordaining clergy living in openly gay relationships. "All he said is, 'There's nothing in our canons or the Book of Common Prayer that prevents that,'" Donoghue said. "He did not say what he would do, but I did get the feeling he was open to it."

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