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Episcopalians ban OK of new bishops

Moratorium responds to crisis on gay prelate

NEW YORK -- Episcopal bishops have imposed a one-year ban on approving new bishops, saying ''extraordinary action" was needed to ease the crisis in world Anglicanism after the Diocese of New Hampshire elected an openly gay priest as its leader.

During a six-day retreat outside Houston, the bishops also promised not to authorize public rites for blessing same-sex couples for at least a year. The wording of the pledge left open the possibility that individual clergy could hold such ceremonies in private.

''This extraordinary moment in our common life offers the opportunity for extraordinary action," the bishops said in a statement.

Episcopal leaders are striving to repair badly frayed ties with Anglican leaders over the November 2003 consecration of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire, who lives with his longtime male partner. The Episcopal Church is the US province of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.

Most Anglican archbishops believe that the Bible bans gay sex. In meetings last fall and last month, these leaders, called primates, requested that Episcopal bishops impose temporary bans on same-sex blessings and the ordination of unmarried bishops who are not celibate.

The primates have also asked the Episcopal Church to temporarily withdraw its representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council, a major body within the Communion. The US bishops said they did not have the authority to order the delegates not to attend, but asked another Episcopal panel with elected representatives to take up the matter.

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, head of the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, said in an interview yesterday that church leaders approved the broader moratorium on new bishops because they did not want ''our gay brothers and lesbian sisters demeaned."

''I think it was an effort to say this applies to all of us, and we will share this among ourselves," he said.

Six Episcopal dioceses have scheduled elections in the next year, according to Canon Robert Williams, a national church spokesman. The dioceses could elect new leaders, but none could take office without consent from the nation's bishops.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion's spiritual leader, called the bishops' actions ''constructive."

Robinson could not immediately be reached for comment yesterday, his spokesman said.

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an advocacy group for gay Episcopalians, said it was ''hugely positive" that the moratorium applied to all candidates for bishop, not just gays. Still, she said the actions of church leaders sent a mixed signal to gays and lesbians that ''the Episcopal Church welcomes you, sort of."

Canon Kendall Harmon, a leading conservative from the Diocese of South Carolina, contended the bishops did not completely meet the primates' requests. Anglican leaders had asked for the bans to remain in place not just for a year, but until a new consensus emerges in the communion about whether gay sex violates Scripture, Harmon said.

The temporary bans will remain in effect until the church's next General Convention in June 2006, when the church will probably take up its policy on gays in the church.

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