Episcopalians schedule vote on church's first openly gay bishop, end investigation

Tuesday, August 5th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A clergyman seeking to become the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church was apparently cleared of 11th-hour allegations of misconduct, a church spokesman said Tuesday.

The bishop leading the inquiry into the Rev. V. Gene Robinson will report later Tuesday on the results of his preliminary investigation and a vote will be taken, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said in a brief statement Tuesday.

Griswold did not comment further, but James Solheim, a church spokesman, said the vote would not have been rescheduled if Robinson hadn't been cleared of the allegations.

Robinson's spokesman, Mike Barwell, could not immediately be reached for comment

Allegations emerged Monday that Robinson had inappropriately touched a man and that he is connected to a group whose Web site can indirectly link users to pornography.

Bishop Gordon Scruton of Western Massachusetts conducted the preliminary inquiry to determine whether the claims were credible enough to warrant a full investigation.

The claims came to light just as bishops from around the country who had gathered for the church's national meeting were to start considering whether to confirm Robinson.

The gathering was thrown into turmoil after several days of intense debate over whether Robinson's election would strengthen or shatter the church. Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, has been living with his male partner for 13 years.

Robinson's supporters had called the timing of the allegations suspicious. His opponents had acknowledged they helped bring forward the Web site claim against him.

The claim of inappropriate touching was e-mailed to Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely by David Lewis of Manchester, Vt. A family friend said Tuesday that Lewis never intended the allegations to go public.

Speaking at a news conference in Manchester, Lou Midura said Lewis sent the e-mail so it could be conveyed privately to other bishops, not debated in the media. Other bishops received the e-mail as well.

Separate concerns were raised about Robinson's connection to the Web site of Outright, a secular outreach program for gay and bisexual youth that Robinson helped found.

Bishops learned of the porn link claim from David Virtue, a conservative Anglican activist and writer who has been among the harshest critics of Robinson and of Episcopal gay activists. Virtue said a bishop whom he would not identify alerted him to the link.

A member of the group's board of directors said Robinson hasn't been involved with the group for several years and had no role in developing its Web page.

The link is on an unaffiliated site that had resources for gay youth, Baxley said. That page provided resources for bisexuals that, a few links away, provided access to porn.

Robinson was elected by his diocese in June, but the church requires that a majority of convention delegates ratify his election.

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; a committee endorsed him by secret ballot Friday.

The final vote he needs is in the House of Bishops.

The American Anglican Council, which represents conservative bishops and parishes, plans a meeting in October to decide whether to break away from the church or take some other action if Robinson is seated.

Like-minded bishops in the Anglican Communion, the 77-million-member global association that includes the Episcopal Church, said they, too, will consider severing ties with the denomination if Robinson wins.

Robinson has rejected calls from conservatives that he withdraw from consideration to prevent a breakup of the church, as a gay clergyman did recently in England.


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