I was wrong, says ECUSA bishop

by
02 November 2006

THE BISHOP of Virginia, the Rt Revd Peter Lee, has expressed his regret that the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) acted unilaterally in confirming Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Bishop Lee has made it clear that he will not consent to any further consecrations of people in same-sex relationships until a wider consensus is reached. Although he voted in favour of Bishop Robinson's confirmation, he now believes, after reflecting on the Windsor report, that ECUSA acted "without proper regard to the need for mutual submission to the concerns of the wider Anglican Communion".

The Bishop made his change of heart known in a speech to his Diocesan Council, delivered by videotape last Friday as he prepared for heart surgery on Monday. The report, he told the Council, offered "a different way of behaving than what has so often characterised the behaviour of Americans".

Twenty-four parishes in Virginia, the largest diocese in ECUSA, partially or totally cut funding in protest at Bishop Lee's surprise vote for Bishop Robinson. He has described his vote as a matter of conscience, stemming from the reflection that, of 200 or so bishops whose consecrations he had approved, some had married after divorce; some had held theological views sharply at odds with his own; and others had refused to ordain women, a practice he endorsed.

The day before the vote, he wrote to the diocese: "I am convinced of the need to respect the diocese of New Hampshire's decision, in spite of my personal reservations and our current diocesan policy, which would not allow Bishop Robinson to be ordained in Virginia."

Bishop Lee, described by the New York Times as "an unwavering centrist and consensus-builder", told his Council in January 2004: "If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy. For as a heretic, you are only guilty of a wrong opinion. As a schismatic, you have torn and divided the body of Christ."

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The Bishop is reported to have been disturbed by the strength of British feeling against American unilateralism in general when he visited Britain last October. Unilateralism had no place in the Church, he told the Council in his speech, which also acknowledged that those who had withdrawn funding had acted out of conscience.

ECUSA's House of Bishops will be making no further comment on the Windsor report until its next meeting in March, after the Primates' Meeting in Belfast later this month. Individual bishops, however, have publicly commented on the "expression of regret" made by the Bishops at their meeting in Salt Lake City in January, and their corporate wish not to "act in haste" to effect moratoriums on further consecrations and rites for the blessing of same-sex unions ( News, 21 January).

The Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt Revd Jack Iker, told his diocese: "Don't hold your breath. It's not going to happen."

The Bishop of Florida, the Rt Revd Samuel Howard, praised ECUSA's House of Bishops for "working diligently to seriously address the challenges posed by the report", but was critical of its failure to respond to the call for moratoriums, and to take a firmer stand on "cross-ocean incursions" by bishops.

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