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Episcopal conservatives walk out of Minneapolis conference over gay bishop's election
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Rev. Gene Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, has been living with his male partner for 13 years and serving as an assistant to the current New Hampshire bishop, who is retiring. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)

Minneapolis, Minn. — (AP) - Episcopal conservatives protested the election of the denomination's first openly gay bishop by walking off the floor of their national legislative meeting Wednesday as they called on Anglican leaders worldwide to intervene in what they called a "pastoral emergency." Some delegates turned in their convention credentials and left for home. Others refused to attend voting sessions. Another group dropped to their knees and prayed as one of their leaders denounced Tuesday's confirmation of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson.

In both allegations it is my conclusion that there is no necessity to pursue further investigation.
- Bishop Gordon Scruton

Robinson was confirmed by the Episcopal General Convention after he was cleared of misconduct allegations that threatened to delay the vote.

With his daughter, Ella, and his partner of 13 years, Mark Andrew, watching nearby, Robinson expressed his love for the church Tuesday night.

"God has once again brought an Easter out of Good Friday," he said.

In an interview Wednesday, Robinson said he hoped his critics would not leave the church, though he disagrees with their view that gay sex violates Scripture.

"I think they're wrong about this," he said. "I think they'll come to know that they are wrong, in this life or the next one."

But Robinson said he values diversity within Anglicanism and hoped his critics will, too.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, head of the church, said the bishops voted 62-45 to confirm Robinson's election. Two bishops abstained, but their ballots under church rules were counted as "no" votes.

Immediately after results were announced, more than a dozen conservative bishops walked to the podium of the House of Bishops, surrounding Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who read a statement saying he and the others felt "grief too deep for words."

Some convention delegates who opposed Robinson left the meeting in tears.

"This body willfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony has departed from the historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ," Duncan said. "This body has divided itself from millions of Anglican Christians around the world."

The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion. American conservatives and like-minded overseas bishops have said confirming Robinson would make them consider breaking away from the denomination.

The American Anglican Council, which represents conservative Episcopalians, planned a meeting in Plano, Texas, in October to decide their next move.

Duncan called on the bishops of the Anglican Communion and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the communion, to intervene in "the pastoral emergency that has overtaken us."

"May God have mercy on his church," Duncan said. Eighteen other bishops signed his statement.

The leader of the Anglican Church of West Malaysia, Bishop Lim Cheng Ean, said Asia's bishops might consider cutting their ties with the U.S. church because of Robinson's appointment. But the head of Australia's Anglican Church, Primate Peter Carnley, considered a liberal, said he didn't think it would be "a communion-breaking issue."

Williams issued a statement saying it was too soon to gauge the impact and appealing to opponents not to react rashly.

"It is my hope that the church in America and the rest of the Anglican Communion will have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response," he said.

Gay rights advocates, meanwhile, claimed Robinson's confirmation as a major victory. The Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of Episcopal gay advocacy group Integrity, said he was "grateful to God" for the vote.

Robinson said he attended a gathering of gay Episcopalians Tuesday night where some were in tears, saying their gay children had called to tell them they would now return to the church.

"I was blown away for what this meant to those who were gathered there," Robinson said.

Later this week, the Episcopal convention is expected to consider a measure on drafting a same-sex blessing ceremony.

The church has been debating the role of gays for decades. In 1998, a worldwide meeting of Anglican leaders approved a resolution calling gay sex "incompatible with Scripture," but the denomination has no official rules - either for or against - ordaining gays.

Some Episcopal parishes already allow homosexual clergy to serve and gays who did not reveal their sexual orientation have served as bishops. But Robinson is the first clergyman in the Anglican Communion to live openly as a gay man before he was elected.

Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, will be consecrated in the New Hampshire Diocese in November.

Allegations that surfaced at the last minute nearly derailed Robinson's vote.

David Lewis of Manchester, Vt., e-mailed several bishops, saying Robinson had inappropriately touched him. Bishop Gordon Scruton, who investigated the claim, said Robinson briefly put his hand on the man's back and arm while engaged in a conversation at a church meeting in public view.

Scruton said Lewis told him he did not want to file a formal complaint. Robinson, who helped write church procedures for dealing with such allegations, has apologized if he made Lewis feel uncomfortable.

The other concern was an indirect link from the Web site of Outright, a secular outreach program for gay and bisexual youth, to pornography. Robinson helped found the Concord, N.H., chapter of the group, but Scruton said the clergyman ended his association with the organization in 1998 and "was not aware that the organization has a Web site until this convention."

Scruton determined Tuesday that there was no need for a full-blown inquiry, allowing the vote on Robinson to proceed.

If conservatives do decide to break away, it was unclear what that would mean for the Episcopal Church. Some parishes could split from their dioceses and refuse to recognize clergy who support homosexuality, but stop short of a complete separation.

A full schism would trigger, among other things, bitter fights over parish assets and undercut the global influence of the U.S. church.

Bishops from Africa, Asia and Latin America, representing more than a third of Anglican Communion members worldwide, severed relations this year with a diocese that authorizes same-sex blessings - the Diocese of New Westminster, based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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