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Church clears gay bishop nominee of allegations

Accuser describes how he was touched

The Rev. Gene Robinson talks with his partner and daughter at the convention.
The Rev. Gene Robinson talks with his partner and daughter at the convention.

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- Episcopal Church investigators who looked into two allegations against the Rev. Gene Robinson absolved him of any wrongdoing Tuesday, paving the way for a vote on whether to make him the first openly gay bishop in the church's history.

"In both allegations, it is my conclusion that there is no necessity to pursue further investigation, and no reason on these grounds to prevent bishops with jurisdiction from going forward with voting about whether or not to consent to Canon Robinson's consecration," said Bishop Gordon Scruton, who oversaw the investigation. (Full story)

In a statement to bishops, Scruton laid out the results of the inquiry into two 11th-hour allegations: one by a Vermont man who claimed Robinson had inappropriately touched him; the other that Robinson was affiliated with a group whose Web site was a few links from a site that contained pornography.

Late Sunday evening, David Lewis sent an e-mail to Bishop Thomas Ely of the Vermont diocese alleging that he was inappropriately touched.

Lewis is an Episcopalian lay leader and has been a member of a diocese in Manchester, Vermont, about 10 years.

Scruton, without giving Lewis' name, said the e-mail "stated that 'I am a straight man reporting homosexual harassment by a gay male priest from another diocese.'"

Ely contacted the sender that evening and again Monday morning to inquire further, Scruton said.

"The individual then indicated to Ely he had sent the e-mail to many bishops," he said.

Ely informed the proper officials to begin the investigation, Scruton said.

Accuser was touched on arm and back

Scruton spoke with Lewis by speakerphone in the presence of Ely and other church officials, and asked him to tell his story.

Scruton, referring to Lewis as "the individual," said this story was laid out:

In 1999 at a convocation in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Lewis asked Robinson a question about the schedule or procedure of the evening "or something of that nature," and Robinson put his left hand on Lewis' arm and his right hand on Lewis' upper back as he listened and answered.

"This incident was in public view and was brief," Scruton said Lewis told him.

Later, "during a light moment," Lewis turned to Robinson to make a comment, and "in response, Robinson touched his forearm and back while responding with his own comment."

Lewis, according to Scruton, said Robinson's hand placement made him uncomfortable and "did not seem appropriate, given that they did not know each other and assumed a far greater familiarity.

"He acknowledged that other people could have seen the exchange as natural and normal," Scruton said.

But after the House of Deputies, comprising more than 800 priests and lay leaders, voted Sunday to approve Robinson for the post, "he found himself late Sunday night in need to tell someone of his experience. He observed that when he wrote the e-mail he was feeling upset. ... He thought the church would close ranks and not listen to him.

"I asked him whether he wanted to bring a formal charge of harassment. He said very clearly 'no.'

"He said he regretted having used the word 'harassment' in his e-mail."

'Intelligent man full of integrity'

Scruton said he explained the disciplinary process and asked Lewis whether he wanted to file a written complaint.

"Again he indicated he had no desire to pursue the matter further."

He was thankful the church had taken the matter seriously, and indicated he was "not seeking any personal attention or notoriety," Scruton said.

Ely is remaining in contact with Lewis, Scruton said.

Lou Midura, senior warden at Zion Episcopal Church said Tuesday of Lewis: "He never expected this to become a matter for the secular press.

"It was meant to be an internal message to the powers that be. ... It got very beyond where he expected."

He described Lewis, a married father of two, as "an articulate, intelligent man full of integrity who loves his community."

Gail Albright, the church's choir director, said Lewis serves as a eucharistic minister.

Neither commented on Lewis' allegation, but Midura said the topic of homosexuality has received little discussion in the parish.

Robinson said through a spokesman that he did not recall Lewis, though he remembered the event Lewis described, which took place in a large public room with about 300 people.

On the second allegation, involving a Web site brought to bishops' attention by a member of the American Anglican Council, which opposes Robinson's ratification, Scruton said Robinson helped found a chapter of the organization Outright in 1995, and ended his involvement with the group in 1998.

In 2002, the group established a Web site that linked to another site, which in turn linked to a site that included what Scruton called "graphic sexual materials."

Robinson "was not aware that the organization has a Web site until this convention," Scruton said, noting that Outright's response to investigators "emphasized to me" that Robinson had no part in the creation of the Web site.

Outright was founded to provide support and counseling for young people concerned about their sexuality, Scruton said.

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