People connected with a set of websites for gay teenagers said late Monday that New Hampshire Bishop-elect Gene Robinson had no ties to their organizations or sites that at one time included links to pornographic sites.
Meanwhile, an official investigation continued into that allegation and another that Robinson had touched another man in an inappropriate way.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold appointed Bishop Gordon Scruton of Western Massachusetts to investigate the allegations. Griswold disclosed the allegations and investigation publicly after the House of Bishops met in a closed session for nearly an hour Monday afternoon. He said that Robinson and New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Theuner asked for the investigation.
Griswold’s statement replaced the expected House of Bishops consent vote on Robinson’s election. It is not clear when that vote will come, although sources say the investigation could well be done within 48 hours. A resolution on same-gender blessings came onto the bishops’ calendar Monday but word has it that it will not be considered until the Robinson election is decided.
Griswold told the house that the investigation was well underway. Scruton participated in the rest of the afternoon’s session, which lasted until nearly 6 p.m.
“This is clearly an attempt to discredit his important nomination,” Cathy Kidman, interim executive director of Outright in Portland, Maine, said in a news release.
On Monday, the group did find and remove from its site a link to another site that contained a link to what Outright called “an erotic website.” Kidman said they were not aware of the site’s link, and agreed that it was not appropriate for the young people Outright serves.
Mim Eastron, executive director of Seacoast Outright of Portsmouth, N.H., said in an e-mail to the bishops’ and deputies’ e-mail listserve that the group “does not have any affiliation with Mr. Robinson or the Episcopal Church.”
Eastron said her group cannot control what links are on websites to which Outright links. However, when Seacoast Outright learned that one of the links on its site contained a secondary link to an “adult-oriented” website, the group took the link down from its site.
Another e-mail on the list from New Hampshire priest Robert E. Stiefel said he understood Robinson was a “founding member of the first board of directors of Concord Outright, but that he has not been active with them in some years.” Stiefel said in the e-mail that he understood some pornographic links were posted to the Portland and Concord Outright websites by a hacker. (The website www.outright.org links people with nine independent organizations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.)
The accusation about Robinson’s inappropriate touching was made in an e-mail sent late Sunday night to Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely, asking him not to consent to Robinson’s election and to reject same-gender blessings.
“When I first encountered Gene at a Province I convocation a couple of years ago he put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation,” wrote David Lewis of Manchester, Vt. “I am a straight man reporting homosexual harassment by a gay male priest from another diocese.”
Lewis could not be reached for comment on Monday.
“One of the real benefits of being part of the Episcopal Church is we do have in place processes to investigate allegations of misconduct,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, director of communications for Integrity. “What I see in that is a desire for nothing but transparency and a conviction that the allegations will be found to be groundless.”
Normally such accusations against a priest would be investigated by the priest’s bishop but in this case Robinson is Theuner’s canon and so Theuner said he knew he had to ask for someone else to look into the accusations. Scruton was chosen during a Monday morning meeting with Griswold and others.
Theuner said he assumes that a report on the investigation will be delivered publicly to the House of Bishops and then released to everyone at Convention.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “I think things will work out as we have intended all along that they would.”
New Hampshire clergy deputy and Standing Committee president Hays Junkin said he hopes people will trust the process. He said the diocese has run its search for a bishop coadjutor in an “open, fair, transparent and Spirit-led way and the Standing Committee will continue this high standard of transition even through this process but we must remain non-anxious as we remain thorough.”
“Obviously, we’d all like it to go as quickly as possible but speed is not the driving thing here. Doing it thoroughly is,” Theuner said. He added that there has been no discussion about what would happen if the investigation cannot be finished prior to the Convention’s scheduled adjournment.
American Anglican Council president David Anderson, referring to the group’s preference that the Convention reject Robinson’s election, said: “This is not the way any of us would want to see it happen.”
“Let’s see if it’s just a spurious allegation by one individual clearly trying to hurt Gene or whether on the other hand it has substance,” he said.
“Gene Robinson is a remarkable man and we know enough about Good Friday to know that anything is possible,” said the Rev. Michael Hopkins of Integrity. “Bouncing back is what the Christian religion is about.”
Convention participants react to accusations
- “The timing is malicious,” said Brother Scott Borden, novice in the Order of the Holy Cross. “Why would you wait till between the votes?”
- “I’m just in shock, and I’m sad that we’re at this place,” said Neal Michell, a visitor from Dallas.
- “I wish that some of this had surfaced before the vote yesterday,” said visitor David Wilson of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a three-time deputy who is attending Convention as an American Anglican Council member and does not favor consent. “I hope for his sake, really, that if he’s innocent he’s exonerated, and if there’s something to it that he has the grace to withdraw his name,” he said.
- “This is the Episcopal contribution to daytime soap operas,” said Deputy Samuel Candler, dean of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta. “I’m stunned and disappointed,” he added.
- “I believe that the opponents of the decision were waiting to see how it went in the House of Deputies,” said Marion Grau, assistant professor of theology at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. “I really hope that the bishops are not going to chicken out, as they’ve been pussyfooting around it for so long. This is just another strategy move to scare them off. I think it’s a strategy to intimidate and to sow doubt into the minds of bishops that are undecided.”
- “I think they saw the avalanche coming, and they were desperate,” said the Rev. Johnson Loud, president of the Indigenous Theological Training Institute. “I just like to see fair play.”
Compiled by Convention Daily reporter Sharon Sheridan