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Cleric Blessed Same-Sex Union

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Times Staff Writer

In a move decried by conservatives in the Episcopal Church, the bishop of Los Angeles presided over the blessing of a same-sex union last month of a well-known priest and his partner.

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the six-county Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese, confirmed Tuesday that he had blessed the union of the Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, 80, the prominent author, and his partner of 20 years, Mark Thompson, 51. Five other bishops were present.

Although Bruno has long supported same-sex union blessings, his decision to officiate at the May 16 blessing of Boyd and Thompson is believed to have been the first time that a sitting Episcopal bishop has presided at such a ceremony since the church’s highest lawmaking body gave tacit approval to the practice in August, church officials in Los Angeles and New York said.

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Such a blessing stops short of a marriage in the view of the church and does not mention the words marriage or wedding. The Episcopal Church does not sanction same-sex marriage.

Bruno said Tuesday that he did not perform the blessing to make any kind of political statement.

“I did it because it was the blessing of two human beings who have lived in a faithful relationship. If I trust that gay people are fully enfranchised members of our church, and since the General Convention has recognized this is an action that takes place in the church, I have to offer the same rite of blessing to these people when I am asked as I would do for any other human being,” the Los Angeles bishop said.

But in a statement issued over the Memorial Day weekend, the conservative American Anglican Council criticized Bruno’s decision as “deplorable” and arrogant.

It leveled the same charge against the Rt. Rev. John Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington. Chane’s office said Tuesday that he would bless the union of the Rev. Michael Hopkins, 43, and John Bradley, 44, on June 12 in Maryland. Hopkins’ term as president of Integrity, the Episcopal gay and lesbian advocacy group, just ended.

“These actions ... demonstrate that the arrogance of revisionist Episcopal bishops knows no limits as they put the homosexual agenda before any hope of unity in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion,” the council statement said. It said it was “too late” for Bruno, but urged Chane to reconsider his upcoming blessing.

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During the same August meeting at which the church’s General Convention allowed such blessings, it overwhelmingly confirmed the election of an openly gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. Since then, the worldwide Anglican Communion has been struggling to maintain unity in the face of deepening divisions over homosexuality.

Already, nearly half of the Anglican provinces or self-governing national churches have severed or downgraded relations with the U.S. Episcopal Church. Meanwhile, conservative forces in the U.S. church have been developing plans to carve out a separate network of parishes and dioceses that disavow the national church’s liberal decisions while, at least for the time being, remaining within the Episcopal Church.

The American Anglican Council noted that the world’s Anglican primates -- archbishops who lead national Anglican churches -- at an emergency summit in London in October urged the Episcopal Church to delay further actions that risked splitting the communion. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.Word of the Los Angeles blessing came just days before a West Coast conference of conservative Episcopalians was scheduled to open Thursday in Long Beach to firm up plans for the network.

Boyd said Tuesday that the ceremony came on the 20th anniversary of his and Thompson’s partnership. Boyd, the author of 29 books, including the bestselling “Are You Running With Me, Jesus?”, is poet/writer in residence at the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese. Thompson is a counselor at the AIDS Service Center in Pasadena, and was instrumental in establishing a gay history archive at USC.

Boyd said he had been criticized by conservatives when he supported civil rights for blacks during the 1960s, and when he later advocated the ordination of women. So, he said, he was not very bothered by the latest controversy over the blessing of his gay relationship. “At 80 I’ve been through the War of the Roses several times, so I don’t get too excited,” he said.

“I think these battles in the different generations are waged and probably have to be waged,” Boyd said. “I think we’re involved in church history right now. Apparently, just because of who I am, I’m involved in church history again. I didn’t ask for it.”

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The Boyd-Thompson ceremony was held at Cathedral Center of St. Paul in Echo Park, headquarters of the Los Angeles diocese.

Besides Bruno, other Episcopal bishops at the Boyd-Thompson blessing were the Rt. Revs. Frederick H. Borsch, who preceded Bruno as Los Angeles bishop; Chester L. Talton, Los Angeles bishop suffragan; assistant Los Angeles bishops Robert Anderson and Sergio Carranza; and Otis Charles, retired bishop of Utah, who now lives in San Francisco.

Last month, Charles married his male partner in a civil ceremony. As a result, he was forbidden by San Francisco Bishop William Swing from officiating at any church services in the San Francisco-based diocese. Charles was the first Episcopal bishop to disclose his homosexual orientation after he had been made a bishop.

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