Gay bishop says opposing bishops violated church law

The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, said it is "pretty clear" that five bishops opposed to his election who led an Ohio confirmation service on Sunday "are in violation of their vows" taken as members of the hierarchy. Six conservative congregations that also oppose Robinson invited the five bishops from outside the diocese without required approval from Ohio's bishop J. Clark Grew II. They do not accept Grew's leadership because he voted to ordain Robinson. Robinson spoke to reporters Monday before a ceremony to receive the Leadership Award, an honor bestowed annually by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Plans to provide special bishops for dissenting congregations like those in Ohio are the top issue at a meeting of the nation's Episcopal bishops--Robinson's first--that begins Friday in Navasota, Tex. Robinson said he supports a plan from the head of the denomination, presiding bishop Frank Griswold, to allow for visiting bishops with permission from the regular resident bishop, as provided under current church rules. Conservatives have already declared that plan unacceptable and warn there could be further Ohio-style disobedience if the bishops' meeting doesn't enact an absolute right to be led by visiting bishops they consider acceptable.

Robinson's consecration has provoked an intense dispute in the Episcopal Church and even more so in the international Anglican Communion of which the U.S. denomination is a part. Robinson said he's "very open" to allowing visiting bishops in his own New Hampshire diocese as long as he continues to make periodic visits to dissenting congregations and as long as the visiting bishop does not "try to undermine [Robinson's] authority" or "take the congregation out of the Episcopal Church." The bishop said two New Hampshire congregations that opposed his election haven't yet asked for such special bishops. He will visit one of them during Holy Week.

The award from the NGLTF shows the degree to which Robinson has become a symbol for gay rights. Task Force executive director Matt Foreman said Robinson's elevation ranks in significance with recent steps toward same-sex marriage in Canada, Massachusetts, and several U.S. cities. "He is a hero to our community," Foreman said, not only for becoming a church bishop but for "the way in which he has conducted himself in the face of vitriolic attacks." Robinson was also named Person of the Year by The Advocate last December and was featured last week in a segment on CBS's 60 Minutes that included a visit to a New York gay bar. "I have this double life," he remarked. "I'm not the gay bishop in New Hampshire. I'm just the bishop."

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