SCOTLAND: Episcopal gay clergy row heads for tribunal hearings
by RAYMOND DUNCAN
GLASGOW (July 26, 2005)--THE bitter row between ministers and bishops over gay clergy in the Scottish Episcopal Church is set to spill over into the wider Anglican communion. Repeated demands to retract a controversial declaration that being a practising homosexual is not a bar to ministry have been rejected by bishops.
A concerned group of ministers, which claims to represent mainstream orthodox followers of the religion, is now threatening to take the theological disagreement to an international tribunal set up by and reporting to the Archbishop of Canterbury. If an appeal is made, it will be one of the first cases dealt with by the Acas-type Panel of Reference, made up of clergy, lay theologians and lawyers. It was established by Dr Rowan Williams because of the global communion's long-running dispute over gays, which has brought the 38 provinces to the brink of schism. The aim is to get opposing factions talking to each other directly and to offer them pastoral advice and mediation.
It has been welcomed by conservatives, who see it as an opportunity to gain protection in disputes with more liberal factions. Some also believe that the panel will help keep the communion in one piece until the gay dispute is resolved in 2008 at the Lambeth Conference, the meeting of bishops and archbishops held every decade. Representatives of the Scottish Anglican Network, which was formed after the bishops made their statement and which claims to represent mainstream orthodox Episcopalians, have now indicated to their leadership an appeal to the panel is being considered.
Another option is seeking "alternative oversight" - where congregations who are in theological disagreement with the church leadership and are unable to accept their authority, ask for a bishop, possibly retired and outwith the current crop, to look after their interests. The college's announcement in March, revealed in The Herald, that being gay and non-celibate was not a bar to the ordained ministry as long as a stable and long-term relationship could be shown, has caused division within the 45,000-strong membership.
The Scottish province's stance is far more liberal than the Church of England, its sister church. It will ordain homosexuals only if they are not in a physical relationship. The college of bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church has been accused by conservatives in the Anglican community in the United States of being "on a slippery slope theologically". Their declaration followed a meeting of Anglican primates who asked both the Canadian and US churches to withdraw voluntarily from the communion's central governing body and repent for their actions following the consecration of Gene Robinson, the gay American bishop.
A letter "on behalf of a group of concerned clergy and congregation members" within the Scottish Episcopal Church has now gone to the college outlining possible action given its failure to retract its statement. It said: "We believe that scripture makes it quite clear that the ordination and the continued presence in leadership of those actively pursuing homosexual lifestyles in our church are unacceptable." A church spokeswoman said the bishops would consider the network's response at their next meeting in September.
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