Clash Over Gay Episcopal Bishops Delays New Ordinations

Times Staff Writer

The nation’s Episcopal bishops declared a one-year moratorium Tuesday on approving new bishops in the United States. They declared that the “extraordinary action” was required to reduce tensions in the worldwide Anglican Communion over ordination of gay bishops.

The 2.4-million-member denomination’s House of Bishops declined to impose a similar moratorium on blessings of same-sex unions. The bishops, meeting at a church retreat in Navasota, Texas, said they would leave the decision of whether to allow such blessings to the bishop of each diocese.

Each of the church’s more than 100 dioceses elects its own bishop, but the national church, including a majority of its bishops, must consent to the election.

After 14 hours of deliberations, the bishops said they would withhold such consent to any person, gay or not, elected bishop between now and the church’s next General Convention in mid-2006.


“This extraordinary moment in our common life offers the opportunity for extraordinary action,” they declared.

The unity of the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion has been unraveling since 2003, when the Episcopal church ordained the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is openly gay and lives with his male partner.

After the ordination, conservative Anglican bishops in Africa, South America and Asia severed or downgraded their ties with the Episcopal Church, the U.S. member of the Anglican Communion.

In their statement, the U.S. bishops apologized “for having breached our bonds of affection by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners” before they and the church’s laity and priests approved Robinson’s ordination.

Tuesday’s vote came just a month after the world’s Anglican primates -- archbishops of national Anglican churches -- met in Northern Ireland and strongly urged the American church to “voluntarily” withdraw from participating in Anglican Communion meetings.

In 1998, the Anglican Lambeth Conference overwhelmingly said that “homosexual practice” was incompatible with Scripture.

But it also called for a dialogue on the issue of homosexuality.

Many of the more conservative bishops in the communion argue that homosexual activity is forbidden by Scripture.

Robinson’s backers, however, said the church is also called upon to be on the cutting edge of social justice issues -- what they called prophetic action.

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles and a member of a 16-member committee that drafted Tuesday’s statement, said the American church hoped its action would “maintain our relations with the Anglican Communion.”

“We’re trying to go the extra mile and pay the price we have to pay,” he said.

In an effort not to single out gay or lesbian candidates for bishop, the statement called for a general moratorium on all elections of bishops.

Bruno, who has blessed gay unions, reaffirmed his commitment not to participate in such ceremonies in the future. But he said he would not impose his own “conscience” on priests in the six-county Los Angeles diocese. They are free to bless same-sex unions if they wish, he said.

One conservative leader greeted the moratorium cautiously.

“Is the Episcopal Church wanting to have a one-year moratorium on all bishops’ elections in order to honestly consider repenting of their action? Or is it one year to buy time?” asked the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council.

Cynthia Brust, a spokeswoman for the Anglican council who is attending the bishops’ meeting, said conservative bishops she spoke to seemed to have been encouraged by the action.