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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Church examines gay bishop charges

Gene Robinson
The news broke just ahead of the vote on Mr Robinson
Anglican Church leaders in the United States have opened an inquiry into allegations against a priest poised to become the communion's first openly gay bishop.

The vote to confirm Canon Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire was delayed two hours before it was to take place on Monday, when allegations against him were made public.

He has been accused of touching another man inappropriately, and of being associated with a group whose website is alleged to link to pornographic sites.

He has not commented on either allegation, but his supporters say the timing is suspicious.

Church leaders now face the possibility of having to postpone the vote on Mr Robinson until after their national convention ends on Friday.

The new appointment has been threatening to split Anglicans in America and abroad.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said in a statement that "a thorough investigation" would be undertaken before bishops were asked to vote on the appointment.

This is horrible. It's character assassination
Robyn Cotton
supporter of Canon Robinson

A church spokesman, James Solheim, said lawyers were investigating whether bishops could vote by post or if a special convention would have to be called if a vote could not be held by the end of the week.

The current Bishop of New Hampshire, Douglas Theuner, said the diocese had continued confidence in Gene Robinson and full confidence in the investigation.

Allegations from a man who claimed he had been touched "inappropriately" by Mr Robinson had been e-mailed to bishops, Mr Solheim said.

Bishop Theuner also said in a statement that the inquiry would look at "concerns" involving Mr Robinson's "relationship to a website of outright.org", a secular outreach program for gay and bisexual youth.

Backing

Mr Robinson - a divorced father of two - has been in a committed homosexual relationship for 14 years.

A supporter of the bishop-elect, Robyn Cotton of Concord, New Hampshire, called the allegations "preposterous".

"This is horrible. It's character assassination," he told Associated Press.

James Jelinek (L), Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, embraces Canon Robinson

Mr Robinson himself said earlier that his confirmation was "not a done deal" but he was expecting the vote to go well.

The bishop-elect was elected over three other candidates by Episcopalians - as US Anglicans are known - in the state of New Hampshire in June.

On Sunday he received the backing of the Church's rank and file - the House of Representatives - by a 2-1 majority.

He wanted, he said, to be a "good", rather than a "gay", bishop.

"The people of New Hampshire just want me to be their bishop and I can't wait to exercise that ministry," he said.

He also had words for UK Anglicans after a gay, but celibate, candidate for bishop there resigned amid objections to his appointment.

"In my opinion it will be only a few years before the Church of England is very ashamed about what happened to Canon Jeffrey John," Mr Robinson told the BBC.

Responding to his critics, Canon Robinson said he hoped that Anglicans around the world would "be able to pull together" as a communion.

'Shattered family'

However, one Anglican theologian, the Reverend Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina, described the appointment as an "utterly unacceptable departure from doctrine".

The American Anglican Council, a splinter group of Episcopal conservatives, said Canon Robinson's appointment had brought the Episcopal Church "to the brink of shattering the Anglican family".

It had urged the House of Bishops to "uphold the historic Christian faith" and vote no on Monday.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Emma Simpson
"The confirmation of Gene Robinson is on hold"



SEE ALSO:
US church backs gay bishop
01 Aug 03  |  Americas
Gay bishop debate stirs passions
02 Aug 03  |  Americas


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