LONDON — An Anglican commission sharply criticized the U.S. Episcopal Church on Monday for consecrating a gay bishop and called on the Americans to apologize.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church quickly expressed regret for the turmoil set off by the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire but did not apologize for the church's decision to confirm the appointment.
The commission, led by Irish Anglican leader Robin Eames, stopped far short of demands from conservatives to expel the U.S. church and made no recommendations about whether Robinson should be removed.
It urged the Episcopal Church to refrain from promoting any other clergy living in a homosexual union and proposed that the 38 national churches constituting the Anglican Communion sign a covenant expressing their support for what it called current Anglican teachings.
The report also called on conservative bishops — including some from Africa — who have offered to forge relationships with disaffected Episcopal congregations to desist from such activities, apologize and affirm their desire to remain within the Anglican Communion.
It further urged those archbishops and bishops who have intervened with Episcopal churches to seek an accommodation with the Episcopal bishop or bishops involved.
In consecrating Robinson last November, the report said, the Episcopal bishops "acted in the full knowledge that very many people in the Anglican Communion could neither recognize nor receive the ministry as a bishop in the church of God of a person in an openly acknowledged same-gender union."
The report invited the Episcopal Church "to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached" in Robinson's election. Until there is an apology, the report said, those who took part in consecrating Robinson — which would include Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold — should consider whether to withdraw themselves from functions of the Anglican Communion.
It also invited the Episcopal Church to call a moratorium on promoting any other person living in a same-gender union to the bishopric "until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."
Griswold previously expressed regret for the turmoil and withdrew as co-chairman of an Anglican ecumenical body. "We regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans," Griswold said Monday.
But in a defiant note, Griswold said his church was seeking to live the gospel "in a society where homosexuality is openly discussed and increasingly acknowledged."
"Other provinces are also blessed by the lives and ministry of homosexual persons. I regret that there are places within our communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out of the truth of who they are," Griswold said.
The Anglican Communion Network, which represents a network of dissenting Episcopal congregations formed in a challenge to the denomination's leaders, called Griswold's remarks hollow. They said they were disappointed that the commission failed to recommend discipline for the Episcopal Church and said unity should not be maintained at the expense of biblical teachings. Conservatives believe the Bible bans gay sex.
"We must not allow a desire to hold the church family together to allow us to maintain the fatal disease that grips (the Episcopal Church) and by association, the Anglican Communion," the network leaders said.
Eames told a news conference that the report did not offer any easy solutions to the church's crisis and sought reconciliation rather than punishment.
"You cannot impose reconciliation," Eames said.
Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, a leader of the conservatives who opposed Robinson's appointment, said the report was unanimous and "represents the highest degree of consensus that was attainable."
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, head of the Church of Southern Africa, who is among the more liberal Anglican leaders in Africa, said he thought the report was fair to gay clergy and their supporters and to conservatives who believe the Bible bans gay sex.
"What the report is emphasizing is that we are a communion and in spanning the complex modern ethical issues we need to act together, not unilaterally. We should work toward finding a consensus in dealing with these issues," he said in a phone interview from Virginia, where he is on sabbatical.
A spokesman for Robinson said the bishop would not comment until he and an executive committee of the Diocese of New Hampshire had a chance to read the full report. Robinson was expected to meet privately with clergy from his diocese to discuss the findings.
The Lambeth Commission is dealing with a deep split among and within Anglican national churches caused by Robinson's election and the decision of the western Canadian diocese of New Westminster to bless gay relationships.
Some conservative churches in Africa and elsewhere have refused to meet with Episcopal Church leaders, and the issue of homosexuality has threatened to undermine the long-term future of the 77-million strong worldwide Anglican Communion, which has its roots in the Church of England.
"The Anglican Communion cannot again afford, in every sense, the crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that engendered by the current crisis," the commission said.
Its report recommended the churches draft and sign an "Anglican Covenant" which would deal with relationships among the national churches and the extent of their autonomy.
The report envisioned this as a long-term process which would be concluded with a formal signing by the national primates at a religious service. No date was set.
The report said there is no consistency among the national churches on their position regarding relationships with other national churches.
The commission also said that, when electing bishops, national churches should consider whether that appointment would prejudice relations with other provinces and whether that individual would be recognized and received if he or she visited another province.
Worldwide, Anglican conservatives are heavily in the majority. A 1998 conference of all Anglican bishops declared gay practices "incompatible with Scripture" and opposed gay ordinations and same-sex blessings in a 526-70 vote with 45 abstentions.
The 17-member Lambeth Commission included senior church figures and theologians from Canada, South Africa, Britain, the United States, Nigeria, China, Kenya, central Africa, New Zealand and India. It was set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.