Episcopal bishops vow not to bless same-sex unions; interfaith questions remain
WASHINGTON (CNS) - In a decision with implications for Catholic-Anglican relations, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church vowed not to authorize any public blessings of same-sex unions or to elect another openly gay bishop while consultations continue throughout the Anglican Communion on "the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian persons" and other matters. Advertisement The pledge came in a document called "response to questions and concerns raised by our Anglican Communion partners," approved Sept. 25 at the close of the six-day House of Bishops' meeting in New Orleans. Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, welcomed the Episcopal statement from both "a Catholic moral and an ecumenical standpoint" but said it remained unclear "how effective this new instruction will be." "What happens when a local bishop authorizes the blessing of same-sex unions in his or her own diocese?" he asked. "Would the national episcopal body impose sanctions on the local bishop?" In their statement, the Episcopal bishops used strong language to condemn outside interference in their dioceses and expressed support for a plan by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to send episcopal visitors to U.S. parishes and dioceses when consultations are needed. "We call for an immediate end to diocesan incursions by uninvited bishops," the document said. "Such incursions imperil common prayer and long-established ecclesial principles of our communion," including "respect for local jurisdiction and recognition of the geographical boundaries of dioceses and provinces." Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, England, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, attended the first two days of the Sept. 20-25 meeting. He said at a news conference in New Orleans that the Sept. 30 deadline set by the primates of the Anglican Communion for the U.S. church to renounce unequivocally the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of bishops involved in homosexual relationships was not an ultimatum but a call for compromise. If the Anglican Communion resolves its differences enough to avoid schism, Archbishop Williams said Sept. 21, "it will have done something for the entire Christian community." Father Massa said the debate in the Episcopal Church also is affected by questions of governance and authority within the Anglican Communion. Noting that the role of the archbishop of Canterbury is "largely one of persuasion and symbolism," he said the "ultimate recourse" if the Episcopal Church were to defy decisions made by the communion as a whole would be the severing of ties between the U.S. church and the Anglican Communion. "This would mean a suspension of eucharistic sharing and of recognizing one another's ministries," he said. "The emergence of two distinct Anglican networks (would create) an ecumenical problem for the Catholic Church, as for other ecumenical partners: With whom do we have dialogue?" Father Massa also described the Anglican Communion as "a church that does not have nor want to have a magisterium, that is, a pastoral leadership structure that can definitively settle a doctrinal debate." "Without any final arbiter in these struggles, including Scripture or a magisterium, the unraveling of the bonds of communion seems almost inevitable," he added. "And that is tragic from the standpoint of Catholic ecumenical partners who love and care about our Anglican sisters and brothers." Tensions have been high in the Anglican Communion - and Catholic-Anglican relations have been strained - since Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is in a monogamous homosexual relationship, was consecrated the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Archbishop Williams has announced that Bishop Robinson will not be invited to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference next July. The gathering, held every 10 years, brings together bishops from throughout the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion for worship, study and discussion.