BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
THE WORLD’S only openly gay Anglican bishop has issued a thinly-veiled appeal for homosexual Catholics to join his Church in protest at Pope Benedict’s “vile” ban on ordaining gay seminarians.
In one of the most savage attacks on the Catholic Church since the 19th century, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire – consecrated in the teeth of opposition from the Church of England – accused the Benedictine papacy of an “act of violence” against homosexuals.
Two years ago, Bishop Robinson’s consecration in America threatened to send the Anglican Communion into schism and set back dialogue with the Catholic Church. Rome said the decision to consecrate the bishop was of “monumental ecclesiological importance” and immediately suspended ecumenical talks.
But last Saturday Bishop Robinson hit back. Addressing a meeting at the central London church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, he said the election of “Pope Ratzinger” had forced many Catholics to leave the Church.
“I am not here to talk about a social agenda, I am not here to grind any axes, I am here to do the thing that Christians do, that is to witness to the good of God.,” he said. “We are seeing so many Roman Catholics joining the church. Pope Ratzinger may be the best thing that ever happened to the Episcopal Church.” He continued: “I find it so vile that they think they are going to end the child abuse scandal by throwing homosexuals from seminaries. It is an act of violence that needs to be confronted.” Bishop Robinson was referring to a document, from the Congregation for Catholic Education, expected this month. The document, which has undergone a number of revisions, is understood to name three criteria for entry to the seminary: that the candidate has been celibate for three years; that the candidate is not active in gay culture; and, crucially, that being in an all-male environment will not cause problems. Primarily the issue is one of commitment to the celibate priesthood, rather than simply an issue of sexual orientation.
Dr Austen Ivereigh, spokesman for the Archbishop of Westminster, said the bishop’s intervention was untimely.
“It is not appropriate for Bishop Robinson to comment on a document which has yet to appear and which the Catholic bishops haven’t yet seen,” he said, “The document is likely to say that seminaries are not appropriate places for young homosexual men with issues about celibacy. More than that we cannot say.” Mgr Andrew Faley, secretary of the bishops’ department for Mission and Unity, said the outburst did not reflect relations between the two communions, and he dismissed the bishop’s claim that Catholics were flocking to join the Anglican Church.
“I don’t think Bishop Robinson’s comments add anything in terms of a greater understanding of the relationship between the Anglican and Catholic communions, nor do I think they take anything away,” he said. “The two communions understand one another at a far deeper level than Bishop Robinson seems to indicate.” The bishop had been invited to London to mark the 10th anniversary of the gay rights group Changing Attitude. But his visit angered many conservative Anglicans, who feared that the decision to host the meeting in a church would damage sensitive Anglican-Catholic relations.
The London Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship, which includes senior lay and clergy members, had urged the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to move the talk to a secular venue. That request was ignored.
Bishop Robinson said it was only in New England that he could really feel at home. He said it was the one place in the world where he was not the “gay bishop”.“I’m just the bishop,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”