Churches break talks with ECUSA

Published January 1, 2004

Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated Nov. 2.

New York

The consecration of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay priest to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) is complicating some of the church’s ecumenical relations — especially among Orthodox churches.

Noting that for “almost 200 years” relations between the two churches have been “warm and friendly,” the Russian Orthodox Church announced in November that it is suspending further co-operation with ECUSA.

In a parallel action, the heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches “postponed” a scheduled meeting of an international commission because “the present time is clearly a moment of uncertainty in the life of the Anglican Communion with the consecration of a homosexual person in a committed, same-sex relationship as a bishop within the Episcopal Church USA.”

The communique signed by Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian and Armenian leaders following a mid-October meeting in Lebanon said that the “ongoing dialogue between the Anglicans and the family of Oriental Churches would be better served by waiting, at present, for the Anglican Communion to have time to take proper account of, and reflect upon, the consecration which has taken place.”

J. Robert Wright, a professor at the General Theological Seminary in New York and a member of the joint commission, pointed out that “we have nearly reached full agreement in our dialogue with these four great churches on the doctrine of Christology. I hope very much that, in spite of this present difficulty, we will be able to complete this work, as planned, and celebrate the agreement at the next Lambeth Conference.”

The Russian Orthodox statement was blunt. “Homosexualism is a sin, which separates man from God. At the same time the church does not deny help to those unfortunate people who are possessed with this ailment,” the statement said, adding that the action of the General Convention in approving “a possibility of blessing unisexual marriages” was “a great danger” because it signaled a growing tolerance of such action.

The Russians expressed anger with those who participated in the consecration. “We shall not be able to co-operate with these people not only in the theological dialogue, but also in the humanitarian and religious and public spheres. We have no right to allow even a particle of agreement with their position, which we consider to be profoundly anti-Christian and blasphemous.”

The statement said, however, that the Russian Orthodox “want to maintain contacts and co-operation with those members of the Episcopal Church in the USA who clearly declared their loyalty to the moral teaching of the Holy Gospel and the Ancient Undivided Church.”

Bishop Christopher Epting, ECUSA’s deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations, said, “We are deeply saddened by the actions of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Russian Orthodox Church with respect to our ecumenical conversations. While we understand their dismay, we would have counseled them to heed the primate’s advice to our own Communion members and ‘to avoid precipitous action’ at least until the new Eames Commission can do its work,” referring to a commission appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury following a mid-October meeting of Anglican primates in London.

Bishop Robinson’s consecration also has had an effect on relations with the Roman Catholic church. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of ECUSA, resigned in late November as the leading Anglican representative on the commission that has fostered dialogue between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. He cited the strain that the recent consecration of an openly gay bishop has had on relations between the Anglican Communion and the Holy See.

Bishop Griswold officiated at Bishop Robinson’s Nov. 2 consecration in the diocese of New Hampshire.

In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Bishop Griswold said he made the decision to quit as Anglican co-chair and member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission “not without regret, but in the interest of not jeopardizing the present and future life and work of the commission.” He had been the Anglican co-chair since 1998.

The commission was formed in 1970 and has been the chief body fostering dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic church.

Pope John Paul II warned Archbishop Williams earlier this year that the issue of homosexuality would jeopardize relations between Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

In a separate development, Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity met in Rome on Nov. 25 with Canon John Peterson, secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council and agreed that the next plenary session of the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) would be put on hold. However, both churches said they remain committed to continuing their dialogue and agreed that the work of the commission’s sub-committees would proceed.

IARCCUM, which was established in 2001, is a group led by bishops aimed at fostering practical initiatives that would give expression to the degree of faith shared by Anglicans and Catholics. ARCIC and IARCCUM complement each other and operate simultaneously.


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