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Episcopalians delay vote on gay bishop candidate

E-mail from Vermont man alleges inappropriate touching

The Rev. Gene Robinson leaves the hall at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday.
The Rev. Gene Robinson leaves the hall at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday.

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- The vote on whether to approve the Rev. Gene Robinson as the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop was postponed Monday afternoon because of 11th-hour allegations of inappropriate conduct.

"Questions have been raised and brought to my attention regarding the bishop-elect of the Diocese of New Hampshire," said Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, leader of the Episcopal Church USA, in a statement given to reporters.

One allegation has to do with an e-mail message received Sunday night from a man in Manchester, Vermont, accusing Robinson of having touched him inappropriately a few years ago at a church convocation. The man's e-mail asked the church to look into his allegation, church officials said.

The e-mail was sent from David Lewis, a church member, to Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont, Ely said.

"My personal experience of him is that he ... does not maintain appropriate boundaries with men," the e-mail said. "I believe this is an alarming weakness of character that alone makes Gene unsuitable for the office of bishop.

"When I first encountered Gene at a ... convocation a couple of years ago he put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation. NO GAY MAN HAS EVER BEHAVED TOWARDS ME THIS WAY [capitals in original] -- and I have had over 25 years of associations with gay male colleagues in the Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego show business communities.

"If I were a straight woman reporting heterosexual harassment by a straight male priest, would you hesitate to take the matter seriously? Well, I am a straight man reporting homosexual harassment by a gay male priest from another diocese."

CNN was not able to reach Lewis. Ely said he had spoken with the man and confirmed that he wrote the e-mail.

Robinson said through his spokesman, Mike Barwell, that he had "no recollection" of Lewis.

"He does remember the meeting," Barwell said. "It was back in 1998. He remembers it was a large public room with about 300 people, but he doesn't remember David Lewis."

The second allegation contends that a Web site Robinson founded several years ago that counsels gay and lesbian youths contains a link to a Web site with erotic photographs, the church officials said.

Robinson previously told CNN he has had no connection to the Web site for several years and was not aware of any link it might have had to any such outside site.

The allegations were revealed as discussion before the vote of the House of Bishops was about to begin.

"The Standing Committee and bishop of New Hampshire, together with the bishop-elect, Canon Robinson, have asked that a thorough investigation be undertaken before we proceed with seeking the consent of the bishops with jurisdiction," Griswold said.

"The investigation will be overseen by the bishop of Western Massachusetts, the Right Rev. Gordon P. Scruton. I will advise the bishops with jurisdiction as to when we might proceed."

The vote would have been the final step to consecration for the candidate.

Clergy, lay body approved Robinson

The House of Deputies -- a body of clergy and lay members of the Episcopal Church -- voted Sunday to approve Robinson's candidacy.

Robinson's diocese in New Hampshire selected him as bishop in June. A key group, the Episcopal Committee on Consent of Bishops, approved his candidacy Saturday.

Robinson, 56, has been serving as assistant to the bishop of New Hampshire.

The Rev. Gene Robinson talks with his daughter Ella and partner, Mark Andrew.
The Rev. Gene Robinson talks with his daughter Ella and partner, Mark Andrew.

Episcopalians are meeting in Minneapolis for their annual General Convention, attended by 835 deputies representing 110 dioceses in the United States.

The bishops and deputies also are discussing whether to approve a rite of blessing for same-sex couples.

The church could decide to approve it or make it an option for each of its dioceses. Some diocesan priests conduct such rites, but they do so without the formal approval of the church, which grants its priests significant autonomy.

Of the 110 dioceses, 106 are voting on Robinson's candidacy -- three bishop posts are vacant and one bishop is submitting a write-in ballot.

The issue has sharply divided the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church in the United States, which is part of the 73 million-member Worldwide Anglican Communion.

Church members opposed to Robinson's approval as bishop have said they fear an even greater split that could distance their church from the wider Anglican Communion.

In an interview Saturday with CNN, Robinson said that he did not believe the issue should cause such a rift.

"I think all of the grim predictions about some sort of schism are probably overstated," Robinson said. "We certainly lost a few people when we ordained women, but there were great predictions that there would be a real worldwide split in the church, and indeed that's not come to pass."

Should his candidacy be denied, Robinson said, he would be disappointed but would stay in the church.

A divorced father of two, Robinson has a partner of 13 years, Mark Andrew. One of his two daughters, Ella, 21, told the church committee Friday that she and her mother support Robinson's election and called him "a good man and a good father."

Churches differ on attitudes toward sexuality

Those who favor Robinson's election said he would make a fine bishop and that it would position the Episcopal Church as a forward-moving group. They say Robinson and his partner share a committed, monogamous relationship that keeps them within the bounds of Scripture.

Opponents of Robinson's selection said his homosexuality is contrary to biblical teaching.

"There are no scriptural arguments to support this," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon of the American Anglican Council, a conservative Episcopal group. "The whole of Scripture as it coheres as a unit, as well as its individual teaching, is against this."

A gay priest recently withdrew his acceptance of the post of bishop in the Church of England, citing the damage it "might cause to the unity of the Church."

Other American churches are also facing new questions on gay clergy and gay marriage.

A vote to lift the ban on gay clergy in the Presbyterian Church a few months ago was blocked by opponents and moderates at the church's national convention .

The Evangelical Lutheran Church allows gay clergy to be ordained if they are celibate. A church in Minnesota is seeking an exemption so it can hire a lesbian who is in a committed relationship with another woman.

The Roman Catholic Church requires its priests to be celibate.

The Vatican recently urged all Catholic and non-Catholic politicians in the United States to block the legalization of gay marriage and adoption.

The United Methodist Church has barred its ministers from participating in celebrations of homosexual unions and allowing such ceremonies to be held in their churches.

CNN correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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