RAY SUAREZ: Once again today, there was drama in Minneapolis, where the leaders of the Episcopal Church are embroiled in a debate over homosexuality. And once again, Fred de Sam Lazaro of Twin Cities Public Television has a report. Amazing grace
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The daily worship service and business of this Episcopal Convention went on amidst of what many called one of the most unusual moments in the church's history. Yesterday afternoon, the House of Bishops abruptly put off the final vote that would have elevated Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop.
THE MOST REV. FRANK GRISWOLD, Presiding Bishop: Questions have been raised and brought to my attention regarding the bishop elect of the diocese of New Hampshire.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A Vermont man accused Robinson of inappropriate touching and separately, Robinson was alleged to have been connected to a Web site with some links to pornography. That triggered what church leaders called an automatic investigation, unprecedented and sobering to many bishops like Rhode Island's Geralyn Wolf.
BISHOP GERALYN WOLF, Rhode Island: Initially we were numb. We just couldn't get over that this had happened. None of us could anticipate this. We also moved to the point where we realized how vulnerable each of us was -- that times had changed dramatically -- and any of us could receive an e-mail making an accusation and that each of us in our own way and in our own time in fact had received some accusations --usually not of a sexual nature but of all kinds of different things. And so in that sense of vulnerability we were hushed.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part conservative Robinson opponent Kendall Harmon called for a fair hearing.
REV. KENDALL HARMON: Is this a community based on trust. This is the Church of Christ and we live in a society where there is the presumption of innocence. So I want to say that right up front. The other thing that we need to say is as a church we need to take any allegations very seriously. Everybody in this room is well aware of the terrible situation in which the Roman Catholic Church finds itself. And if there were anything to these allegations and they weren't investigated, everybody here knows that the charge of cover up would be quickly hurled at the church.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Amid speculation at the investigation could last longer than this week's convention, this afternoon, there was another unexpected turn. Gordon Scruton, the bishop leading the inquiry, announced its findings.
BISHOP GORDON SCRUTON, Massachusetts: In both allegations it is my conclusion that there is no necessity to pursue further investigation and no reason on these grounds to prevent the bishop's with jurisdiction from going forward with their vote being whether or not to consent to Robinson's consecration.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many said they were confident he would be cleared but the president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts said the last minute allegations marred the process.
BISHOP STEPHEN CHARLESTON, President, Episcopal Divinity School: What is unsettling is the feeling of a political quality to this. That it would be in perhaps some ways deliberate rather than just coincidental. I think that is the most unsettling and troubling effect that will linger far beyond what we're going to experience over the next day or two.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Late this afternoon the House of Bishops began the debate that we expected to have started 24 hours earlier. And that debate continues in the chamber adjacent to this one: A final vote expected sometime after 6:00 P.M. Central U.S. Time. It's much longer than anyone expected -- perhaps an indication of how difficult this issue has been. Ray?
RAY SUAREZ: Fred, when we talked yesterday, it seemed like the investigation could last a good long time. There is speculation that the vote might not be held before the convention broke up. It seems like it was handled pretty quickly?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Church has very automatic processes in place, ray and when an allegation surfaces it has to be thoroughly investigated and, of course, the investigators cannot let on when they think they might have a verdict because it might indicate how seriously they are taking the charges. So we did not get any such indication. As it turns out the charges were dismissed rather quickly by Archbishop Scruton, who is not, as the tape said, from Vermont but western Massachusetts.
RAY SUAREZ: Tell us more about the charges and the findings.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The charges of course were two separate ones: One that he was associated with the Web site which in turn had links to pornography sites. It was well established he had no links at all to this Web site. He helped found the organization that it belonged to years ago. The most serious charge, the one involved charges from a particular individual in Vermont who is of inappropriate touching. Now, the investigators did in fact talk to this individual and established that the touching specifically involved here was of a forearm and the back and was in full public view; it was at a public gathering and the person in fact said he was sorry that he had issued a charge of harassment, which was contained in the e-mail. With all this in mind, Bishop Scruton was able to dismiss the charges and the House of Bishops is now in session voting on this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Were opponents and supporters of Cannon Robinson glad to get this off the table?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: I think there was -- two schools of thought on this, Ray: Most people were saying we need to get this cleared and we need to get Gene Robinson's name cleared and the matter cleared up very, very quickly. There was allegations that there was dirty political tactics afoot to delay and stonewall the nomination or the confirmation, rather, and that would drag it out and perhaps derail it. And this of course coming from the pro Robinson supporters. But from all the public rhetoric they were supportive and respectful of the process that has gone on here at this convention.
RAY SUAREZ: As you mentioned, the debate in the House of Bishops is now finally underway one day later. Can you tell us what people have been saying?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the debate, ray, it's pretty much the same debate that has been held in several forums here this is a deliberate church in terms of passing these kinds of resolutions and confirming people to officialdom in the church. The debate is very much the same. It's over whether scripture affirms or disaffirms homosexuality and the role of gays in the church. And of course, in many eyes this is a church affirming or making official something that carries on unofficially at the local diocese level in many parts of the Episcopalian Church in the united states.
RAY SUAREZ: And Fred is there an expectation that this is going to be over tonight, the vote?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Every expectation, yes, indeed; they expect this will be done tonight. If Bishop elect Robinson is confirmed he plans to become the bishop and not the gay bishop of New Hampshire he says. He will be consecrated in November. He does not plan to appeal through any of the processes if he is not confirmed.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred, thank you for being with us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thank you, Ray.