Dissension within the church on gay rights issues is likely to come up at the next meeting of the nation’s Episcopal bishops, a closed door session which begins Friday in Navasota, Texas.
(AP) Launching a new front in the Episcopal Church conflict over the appointment of an openly gay bishop, six defiant congregations joined Sunday in a confirmation service led by bishops acting without permission from the Diocese of Ohio.
Under Episcopal law and liturgy, confirmations are performed only by local bishops or visiting bishops approved by the head of the host diocese – in this case Bishop J. Clark Grew II of Cleveland.
“This business against the diocesan bishop is simply defiant and that’s why it’s troubling,” said Daniel England, a church spokesman. “It violates our constitution and canons.”
The six congregations are part of a nationwide protest movement of conservative Episcopalians who oppose homosexual activity on biblical grounds.
The issue exploded last year when the church’s national convention approved the elevation of the denomination’s first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Grew joined a majority of Episcopal bishops in voting for Robinson, and Sunday’s service was a personal snub of his authority. A message left Sunday seeking comment from him was not immediately returned.
As the rift over gay clergy has deepened in the Episcopal Church, a key issue has been what to do about conservative parishes within dioceses whose bishops supported Robinson.
Conservatives are demanding substitute leadership from outside their dioceses, bypassing their regular resident bishops, and say bishops have rarely provided that for them.
The issue of oversight will top the agenda when the nation’s Episcopal bishops meet behind closed doors at Navasota, Texas, starting Friday.
Sunday’s confirmations, performed in an Eastern Orthodox church 25 miles south of Cleveland, represented a warning that if the bishops don’t give conservatives what they want, further protests and disruptions are inevitable.
The confirmations of about 110 people of varying ages were conducted by five retired Episcopal bishops and one bishop from the international diocese. About 800 people attended the 2½-hour service in suburban Akron.
“This is an emergency measure we took responding to the controversial actions of last summer,” said retired Texas Bishop the Rev. Maurice Benitez, referring to Robinson’s appointment. “We came in and we confirmed about 100 people. Many of them did not want to be confirmed by their bishop.”
Joining Benitez were C. FitzSimmons Allison, retired bishop of South Carolina; William Cox, retired assistant bishop of Oklahoma; Alex Dickson, retired bishop of west Tennessee; William Wantland, retired bishop of Eau Claire, Wis.; and the Rev. Robinson Cavalcanti, bishop of northern Brazil.
The presence of Cavalcanti underscored that in the international Anglican Communion, in which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch, most bishops strongly oppose gay activity. Many foreign Anglican churches have broken ties with the Episcopal Church.
Last October, an emergency meeting of heads of the Anglican Communion’s 38 branches jointly stated that bishops must respect the autonomy of each other’s dioceses, warning in advance against events like Sunday’s confirmations.
But that meeting also called upon the Episcopal Church to “make adequate provision for Episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities.” In response, the head of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, and his advisers proposed what they called “supplemental episcopal pastoral care.”
The American Anglican Council, a conservative group that played a role in organizing Sunday’s confirmations, found that plan unacceptable because the local bishop would retain power to approve visiting bishops.
If the local bishop refused, a parish could appeal to other bishops, but conservatives say the process would remain in hostile hands and there’s no guarantee parishes would get what they want.
The Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, a new nationwide organization for conservatives, is laying plans to provide outside conservative bishops for conservative parishes. The network is allied with the American Anglican Council, but did not sponsor the service.