An Anglican commission sharply criticized the Episcopal Church USA on Monday for consecrating a gay bishop and called on the U.S. church to apologize or consider disassociating itself from the leadership of the worldwide communion. The report of the commission, headed by Irish primate Robin Eames, did not recommend a specific penalty for the American church. But it urged the U.S. Episcopal Church to refrain from promoting any other clergy living in a gay relationship and proposed that the 38 national churches constituting the Anglican Communion sign a covenant expressing their support for what it called current Anglican teachings.
The report also called on conservative bishops--including some from Africa--who have offered to forge relationships with disaffected Episcopal congregations to desist from such activities, apologize, and affirm their desire to remain within the Anglican Communion. It further urged those archbishops and bishops who have intervened with Episcopal churches to seek an accommodation with the Episcopal bishop or bishops involved.
In consecrating V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire last November, the report said, the Episcopal bishops "acted in the full knowledge that very many people in the Anglican Communion could neither recognize nor receive the ministry as a bishop in the church of God of a person in an openly acknowledged same-gender union." The report invited the Episcopal Church "to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached" in Robinson's election. Until there is an apology, the report says, those who took part in consecrating Robinson--which would include Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold--should consider whether to withdraw themselves from functions of the Anglican Communion. It also invited the Episcopal Church to call a moratorium on promoting any other person living in a same-gender union to the bishopric "until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."
Eames told a news conference that the report did not offer any easy solutions to the church's crisis and sought reconciliation rather than punishment. "You cannot impose reconciliation," Eames said. Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, a leader of the conservatives who opposed Robinson's appointment, said the report was unanimous and "represents the highest degree of consensus that was attainable."
The Lambeth Commission is dealing with a deep split among and within Anglican national churches caused by Robinson's election and the decision of the western Canadian diocese of New Westminster to bless same-sex relationships. Griswold previously expressed regret for the turmoil and withdrew as
cochairman of an Anglican ecumenical body. "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," he said Monday. But in a defiant note, Griswold said his church is seeking to live the gospel "in a society where homosexuality is openly discussed and increasingly
acknowledged.... Other provinces are also blessed by the lives and ministry of homosexual persons. I regret that there are places within our communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out of the truth of who they are."
A spokesman for Robinson said the bishop would not comment until he and an executive committee of the diocese of New Hampshire had a chance to read the full report. Robinson was expected to meet privately Monday with clergy from his diocese to discuss the findings. A coalition of conservative U.S. Episcopalians affirmed Saturday that it had split from the national church and formed four new congregations, partly because of last year's consecration of the gay bishop. The congregations plan to align themselves with a foreign bishop and meet in private homes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Some conservative churches in Africa and elsewhere have refused to meet with Episcopal Church leaders, and the issue of homosexuality has threatened to undermine the long-term future of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, which has its roots in the Church of England. "The Anglican Communion cannot again afford, in every sense, the crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that engendered by the current crisis," the commission said. Its report recommended the churches draft and sign an "Anglican Covenant," which would deal with relationships among the national churches and the extent of their autonomy.
The report envisioned this as a long-term process that would be concluded with a formal signing by the national primates at a religious service. No date was set. The report said there is no consistency among the national churches on their position regarding relationships with other national churches. The commission also said that when electing bishops national churches should consider whether that appointment would prejudice relations with other provinces and whether that individual would be recognized and received if he or she visited another province.
Worldwide, Anglican conservatives are heavily in the majority. A 1998 conference of all Anglican bishops declared gay practices "incompatible with Scripture" and opposed gay ordinations and same-sex blessings by a 526-70 vote, with 45 abstentions. The 17-member Lambeth Commission included senior church figures and theologians from Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Nigeria, China, Kenya, central Africa, New Zealand, and India. It was set up by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.