Sexuality issues cause timing concern at Episcopal convention

Published June 16, 2006

Bishop Robert O’Neill of the diocese of Colorado, a member of the special legislative committee considering responses to the Windsor Report, listens to a question at a media briefing.

Columbus, Ohio
There is concern at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention that controversial issues around its response to an international report may not be decided before the election of a new presiding bishop, or national leader, on Sunday, June 18.

A legislative committee at the convention on June 16 indicated it is overwhelmed with last-minute resolutions concerning human sexuality and has scheduled extra meetings to cope with its work.

“We have received 24 resolutions and send three out of committee (to the full convention for a vote) and recommended four for discharge (withdrawal),” Bishop Robert O’Neill, a member of the committee, told a news briefing.

Before the convention, a special commission had sent seven resolutions to the triennial governing body concerning responses to the Windsor Report, a request from international Anglican leaders that the Episcopal Church declare a moratorium on electing homosexuals as bishops and on permitting blessing ceremonies for gay couples and that the U.S. church express regret for electing in 2003 Bishop Gene Robinson, who is in a same-sex relationship. The count of 24 included the seven original resolutions, said Bishop O’Neill, diocesan bishop of Colorado.

The committee held an open meeting on the morning of June 16, scheduled an additional meeting for the evening of June 16 and a hearing for the morning of June 17.

At the June 16 morning meeting, Bishop Edward Little of the diocese of northern Indiana, noted that speakers at an open hearing on June 14 were split. “Forty-five per cent said ‘junk the resolutions entirely,’ 45 per cent said ‘strengthen the resolutions’ and 10 per cent said ‘keep them.’ We are very polarized.”

Another committee member, Michael Howell, of the diocese of southwest Florida, said, “whatever we do, we must craft legislation that addresses the points made in the Windsor Report … with honesty and clarity.”

Several of the resolutions, as they now stand, do not use the language of the Windsor Report. For instance, rather than recommending a ban on electing homosexuals to the episcopate, one resolution says the church should “exercise very considerable caution” when considering a candidate for bishop “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.”

Before the convention, Episcopal church officials said they wanted to see the Windsor Report issues decided before the election. However, said Bishop O’Neill, in a brief interview with the Journal, the committee has not been given a formal charge as to the timing of its work.

At the news briefing, in response to a question reflecting conservative views that Bishop Robinson’s election must be repudiated or reversed in order to repair relations with other Anglican churches, Bishop Little said “there is no requirement for an undoing of the consecration of Bishop Robinson. Theologically, our church teaches that the sacrament of ordination confers ‘indelible character.’ The Windsor Report focuses more on refraining from future actions.”

Meanwhile, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion office, Canon Kenneth Kearon, addressed the U.S. house of bishops concerning the American church’s response to the Windsor Report.

In a 15-minute address, he noted that the bishops “see all of the stresses and strains” in the fabric of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the term for churches loosely affiliated with the Church of England, comprising some 77 million members. Sometimes, he said, “we need to stand back from our communion and celebrate the diversity of fabrics.” While Mr. Kearon said he was “interested” in the way ECUSA (the Episcopal Church in the United States) would respond to the Windsor Report, he did not make any recommendations. It was a contrast to recent statements from the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and the bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, that were seen as putting pressure on the U.S. church to adhere closely to Windsor‘s recommendations.

Mr. Kearon also spoke about several processes set up by the Windsor Report. A “panel of reference,” which examines situations where churches disagree with actions of their dioceses or national churches, is “very much up and running” and has met twice. Another group has been set up “to assist the Archbishop of Canterbury in assessing your response to the Windsor Report.”

Another process, he said, involves sharing information about “listening processes” in various countries that are aimed at hearing the experiences of gay people within the church. And, he said, interest in the concept of an “Anglican covenant,” also mentioned in Windsor, is “very widespread.” The idea was to articulate common articles of faith in a church where self-governing national churches may make moves that put them at odds with other parts of the communion. A working group is examining the idea of a covenant, but its work will probably take “six to eight years,” said Mr. Kearon, due to the extensive consultations needed.

* * *

Six newly-elected bishops are up for confirmation by the full General Convention. Unlike the situation in 2003 when the convention was asked to confirm the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, homosexuality has not arisen as an issue with any of the slate in Columbus. One bishop, however, is being subjected to closer scrutiny over what might be called a “lifestyle” issue.

The committee on the consecration of bishops sent five of the six names to the full convention without dissent. However, a minority on the committee is apparently concerned with the election of Canon Barry Beisner, of the diocese of Northern California, who has been married three times and divorced twice. Although the committee did consent to send Mr. Beisner’s name to the convention floor, a minority report will be released on June 17, said Rev. Tobias Haller, of the diocese of New York and a member of the committee.

At a news briefing, he declined to comment on the report’s content.

Earlier, in open testimony before the committee, Mr. Beisner, 54, said that his marital history was not an issue in his election but had been raised subsequently by people outside the diocese.

Bishop Jerry Lamb, who would become Mr. Beisner’s predecessor, told the panel that when he selected Mr. Beisner to be canon to the ordinary, “I knew him to have extraordinary skills and knew he was an extremely gifted priest. I had experienced his ability to plan, to see questions, to see issues.”

At the last General Convention in Minneapolis in 2003, the confirmation by the full convention of Bishop Robinson attracted world attention.

Under the canons, or laws, of the U.S. church, bishops elected within 90 days of the triennial General Convention must be confirmed by the full convention.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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