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Episcopal Church Approves First Gay Bishop

BY Admin  August 5, 2003 at 8:40 PM EST

The 62-45 vote by the House of Bishops to confirm Robinson’s election ended months of controversial debate over his nomination, but critics warned the move could split the Church.

On Sunday, the House of Deputies, a legislative body comprised of clergy and lay people from dioceses nationwide, approved Robinson by a 2-to-1 margin. An ordination ceremony is set for November.

The American Anglican Council, a group of conservative Episcopalians, said Monday that if delegates approved Robinson’s election, opponents would hold an “extraordinary meeting” in October to decide their next move.

Tuesday’s vote came a day later than originally scheduled. Hours before the vote was to take place on Monday, Vermont parishioner David Lewis sent an e-mail accusing Robinson of inappropriately touching him during a church event. Robinson denied the accusation, but Church leaders postponed the vote pending an investigation.

A second charge also surfaced on Monday. Another member of the Episcopal Church, accused Outright, an organization for gay youth with which Robinson is affiliated, of having a link to pornography on its web site.

A statement, which appeared on outright.org on Monday, denied that Robinson had any involvement in the site’s content and called the accusation, “an attempt to discredit [Robinson's] important nomination.”

After a 24-hour investigation into both accusations, Church leaders decided to move forward with the vote.

“In both allegations it is my conclusion that there is no necessity to pursue further investigation,” Bishop Gordon Scruton, who led the investigation, said in a speech to bishops.

Scruton said the inappropriate touching allegation had prompted more scrutiny. Scruton said he spoke with the Vermont man who made the allegation by phone Monday and was told that, at a public church event in November 1999, Robinson “put his left hand on the individual’s arm and his right hand on the individual’s upper back” as Robinson answered a question.

“He said he was thankful the church had taken this seriously and that he felt ‘listened to,’” Scruton said, adding the accuser had no interest in pursuing the complaint.

Critics have warned Robinson’s nomination may divide America’s 2.3-million-member Episcopal community, arguing that the Bible forbids homosexuality.

Since the 18th Century, according to a Reuters’ report, the Church has rejected only nine priests nominated for the position of bishop, the last in 1934.

To date, Robinson is the only Episcopal bishop-elect in the U.S. under scrutiny for his sexual preference. In England, gay Canon Jeffrey John withdrew his bid for bishop last month after members of the Anglican Church, including Archbishop Rowan Williams, criticized his nomination. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. affiliate of Britain’s Anglican Church.