With every seat filled in the House of Bishops – 302 chairs in the visitors gallery and 27 seats in the press area – Bishop Gordon Scruton rose Tuesday afternoon to the podium and detailed his investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by Bishop-Elect Gene Robinson.
“The Gospel of Jesus Christ and our Canons require us to hold each other accountable for our character and our behavior,” Scruton read from a prepared text. “The Episcopal Church has clear policies in place to guide our response in such instances. These policies ensure that truth can be pursued and respect and care be shown to all parties involved.”
Late Sunday evening, after the House of Deputies confirmed the election of Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, a Vermont Episcopalian sent an e-mail to his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely. In the e-mail, the man claimed, “I am a straight man reporting homosexual harassment by a gay male priest from another diocese.”
Ely contacted the individual and assured him the “church takes such concerns seriously,” Scruton said. Asked by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the New Hampshire Standing Committee and Robinson to conduct an investigation into the allegations, Scruton said he talked with the Vermont man on Monday afternoon.
The Vermont man alleged Robinson inappropriately touched him on two occasions during a November, 1999, Province I Convocation at the Mont Marie Conference Center in Holyoke, Mass.
On one occasion, the man said Robinson put his left hand on the man's arm and a right hand on the individual’s upper back. The incident was in public view and was brief.
In the second incident, the man claimed Robinson touched his forearm and back in response to a comment the man made.
“The individual said that in his opinion, Canon Robinson’s placement of his hands seemed inappropriate to him, given that they did not know each other, and presumed a far greater intimacy than was the case,’’ Scruton said. “The individual said these incidents made him feel uncomfortable.”
Despite not reporting the incidents to anyone other than his wife, the Vermont man said he felt compelled to share the experience after the House of Deputies approved the election on Sunday.
“He expected his concern would be brushed under the rug,” Scruton said. “He thought the church would close ranks and not listen to him.”
The man said he did not want to file a formal charge of harassment against Robinson. “He was thankful the church has taken this seriously and that he felt listened to,” Scruton said.
Bishop Ely and the man’s parish priest are maintaining an ongoing pastoral relationship.
The second allegation stemmed from concerns about an adult-content Web site. Two bishops brought the site to the attention of the parliamentarian of the House of Deputies, who then contacted the chancellor to the presiding bishop.
The Web site could be reached through a link from a chapter of an organization known as Outright, which was founded to provide support and counseling for young gay, lesbian and bisexual people. The question was to what extent Robinson was involved in creation and maintenance of the site.
Scruton said his investigation revealed that Robinson helped found Outright in 1995 and ended his involvement in 1998, four years before the organization's Web site was established.
“I see no evidence that Canon Robinson was aware of or associated with the Web site or its contents,” Scruton said. He concluded there was no reason “to pursue further investigation and no reason on these grounds to prevent the bishops with jurisdiction from going forward with their voting.”
After the report, the bishops shared in private conversation loosely based on an Ignatian process of communal discernment. Griswold asked the bishops to pray for their “interior spirit,” then to spend 15 minutes giving reasons why Robinson should not be elected. The bishops then prayed again and shared reasons why they should give consent to the bishop-elect.