Gay prelate in plea for unity after election


US: The Rev Gene Robinson (56) appealed to followers in the Anglican Church for unity after he was elected the first openly gay bishop.

"We can heal whatever rifts show themselves in these next few days," said the Bishop-elect of New Hampshire in an appeal for Anglican unity after his potentially divisive election early yesterday morning.

"We find our unity in our belief in Jesus Christ and in our service to him and our service to the world in his name," he told NBC's Today programme.

His election by the US Episcopal House of Bishops provoked protest from 19 of the bishops present at the church's general convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Bishop Robert Duncan, of Pittsburgh, speaking on behalf of those opposed to Bishop Robinson's appointment, said that they felt "a grief too deep for words" and that they were "filled with sorrow" by his appointment.

"This body [the House of Bishops], in wilfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside holy matrimony, has departed from the historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ," Bishop Duncan said after the results of the private vote became known. Of the 107-member House of Bishops, 62 voted for Bishop Robinson's appointment, with 43 voting against. Two abstained.

The House of Bishops decision has rippled throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the US Episcopal Church is a part, provoking reaction from many quarters.

The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Peter Jensen, told Reuters that the result was "catastrophic", while Mr David Phillips of the Church Society in England urged the Anglican movement worldwide to shun the US church.

Representatives of the Anglican Church in South American and Africa have also spoken out against Bishop Robinson's appointment, while the Rev David Anderson of the conservative American Anglican Council said the election could lead to a schism in the church. The American Anglican Council has appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to intervene.

In a statement yesterday Dr Williams said: "Difficult days lie ahead for the Anglican Church". He appealed for calm and reflection, but added that members of the Anglican Church needed to be "very careful about making decisions . . . which constrain the church elsewhere".

Unlike the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no real power to enforce his will on the Anglican Communion overseas. His voice, however, does carry weight.

The role of gay people in the Anglican Church has been controversial for some time and looks set to remain on the top of the church's agenda. Recently in England, a celibate gay priest, Canon Jeffrey John, withdrew his candidature as Anglican Bishop of Reading after an outcry and claims that his appointment would lead to a church schism.

The general convention of the Episcopal Church in Minneapolis still has the thorny issue of single-sex marriages to contend with before it breaks up on Friday.

The proposal that the church bless and recognise single-sex unions is as potentially divisive for the Episcopal Church as was Bishop Robinson's appointment. It is another issue that could contribute to a schism in the Anglican Communion.