The final vote on consent to the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire was postponed Monday after a Vermont man sent an e-mail to bishops accusing Robinson of fondling him “a couple of years ago.”
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has appointed Bishop Gorton Scruton of Western Massachusetts to conduct an investigation into the allegations that Robinson “inappropriately touched” a member of the Diocese of Vermont during a provincial meeting some years ago.
The man, David Lewis of Manchester, Vt., sent an e-mail letter to Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont on Sunday, Aug. 3, asking Ely not to consent to Robinson’s election, which the House of Deputies confirmed Sunday afternoon. Lewis claimed that Robinson had repeatedly touched or fondled him during a Province I convocation several years ago. This was his first experience of being treated this way by a gay man, said Lewis, in his 25 years of association with gay male colleagues in show business.
Lewis in his letter asked whether Ely would hesitate to investigate the charge if a straight woman were making a sexual harassment report. “I am a straight man reporting homosexual harassment by a gay male priest from another diocese,” said Lewis.
Efforts by Episcopal News Service to reach Lewis by phone have been unsuccessful.
Scruton will also investigate allegations that Robinson is affiliated with a Web site — Outright.org — that offers links to pornographic sites. According to convention officials, these allegations appear unfounded.
The Presiding Bishop announced the investigation in a statement in the opening minutes of the session this afternoon in the House of Bishops. The Presiding Bishop said the legislation concerning the consent to Robinson and the resolution dealing with rites of blessing for same-sex unions (C051) will be tabled until the investigation is completed.
According to a short statement issued by the presiding bishop said Robinson and the Standing Committee of New Hampshire requested the investigation. The statement says:
“Questions have been raised and brought to my attention regarding the Bishop-Elect of the Diocese of New Hampshire. 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. The investigation will be overseen by the Bishop of Western Massachusetts, the Rt. Rev. Gordon P. Scruton. I will advise the Bishops with jurisdiction as to when we might proceed,” the statement concluded.
The presiding bishop had little choice but to investigate the allegations, said Jim Solheim, director of Episcopal News Service. “Churches are very sensitive to these issues. When charges are made against a priest of the church, it does trigger an almost automatic process,” he said.
Solheim said he didn’t think the committee has yet met or questioned Robinson. When will the investigation begin? “As quickly as possible,” Solheim said.