Thursday, March 22, 2007
By Steve Levin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Episcopal Church bishops meeting in Texas resolved yesterday not to kowtow to "spiritually unsound" demands from worldwide Anglican Communion leaders to allow a separate council to oversee theologically conservative dioceses unhappy with the church's position on gay clergy and same-sex marriages.
In a clear message that could jeopardize the Episcopal Church's standing within the communion, the resolutions rejected the so-called "pastoral scheme" that resulted from a meeting of Anglican leaders, or primates, last month in Tanzania, saying "it would be injurious to the Episcopal Church."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, issued a statement yesterday calling the bishops' response "discouraging" and said it indicated "the need for further discussion and clarification."
"Some important questions have still to be addressed," the brief statement read. "No one is underestimating the challenges ahead."
At least six of the church's 111 dioceses, including Pittsburgh, have asked for alternative primatial oversight, declaring they cannot accept Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's leadership because of her support for gay relationships.
One of the three resolutions passed during a five-day meeting in Navasota, Texas requested an "urgent" meeting with the archbishop. It was not clear when, or if, that would occur.
The bishops' resolutions did not specifically address an alternative leader, or primatial vicar, for theologically conservative Episcopalians nor respond directly to the questions of gay clergy.
Instead, said Bishop Stacy Sauls of the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., the resolutions addressed "the whole package" of demands. He said details on those issues would be part of church-wide discussions held throughout the summer.
Leaders of the more than 70-million-member Anglican Communion who met in Tanzania last month gave the Episcopal Church a Sept. 30 deadline to accept a primatial vicar for the conservative American dioceses and agree not to consecrate non-celibate gay bishops or conduct same-sex marriages.
In return, Anglican leaders outside the U.S. would stop trying to provide alternative oversight to disgruntled Episcopalians.
Failure by the American church to agree to the Tanzanian proposals could lead to a diminished role within the worldwide church.
All three Texas resolutions made clear that the 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church desired to remain a full constituent member of the Anglican Communion, made up of 38 geographical conferences in 161 countries.
But in similarly straightforward language, the resolutions stated the bishops' belief that the Bible proclaims "all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons [as] full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church."
"We proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth," one resolution read.
"If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision."
The Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan Jr., bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese, attended the Texas meeting but did not respond to a request for comment.
Rev. Duncan is leader of the Anglican Communion Network, an association of theologically conservative dioceses and parishes dissatisfied with recent actions by the Episcopal Church. The 2003 consecration of openly gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson has been the most divisive of those.
In a news conference yesterday after the meetings in Navasota concluded, the presiding bishop said the resolutions would be taken up by the Executive Council, a group of lay and clergy leaders that oversees the church.
The Rev. J. Robert Wright, historiographer of the Episcopal Church, called the resolutions "a very careless kind of statement" for their lack of specificity.
"What the resolutions do say is that what you, the primates, have proposed for us to do, we cannot see how to do it nor do we believe we should do it," he said.
The Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, president and CEO of the conservative American Anglican Council, said the resolutions showed that the Episcopal Church was not willing to be a part of the wider Anglican Communion.
"The bishops' rejection of the primates' pastoral scheme is in fact further proof that such a plan is now needed more than ever to intervene on behalf of the orthodox in America," Rev. Anderson said.
"A default on the part of the House of Bishops and her presiding bishop should not delay the implementation of the relief effort."
(Steve Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1919. )