Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bishop Permits Blessings of Same-Sex Couples

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bishop Permits Blessings of Same-Sex Couples

Article excerpt

Bishop Dorsey McConnell of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has decided to allow, but not require, priests to conduct blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The decision Monday came after months of deliberation and talks in the diocese, seeking consensus on a volatile issue that, along with other matters of sexuality, was already a major factor in a 2008 split among local Episcopalians.

Bishop McConnell's decision authorizes priests, beginning in early January, to preside over a rite for blessing lifelong covenants for same-sex couples. That rite was approved in 2012 by the Episcopal Church's legislative General Convention, subject to approval by local bishops and to further review at the next convention in 2015.

Bishop McConnell said he has serious reservations about the theology implied by the language in the blessing liturgy -- concerns focused not on sexuality but on historic Christian doctrines of sin and redemption. But he said allowing individual choice honors a covenant reached by those who remained with the diocese in 2008, calling for unity among conservative, moderate and liberal elements.

"As I have listened to you, I have heard many passionate, and sometimes contradictory, hopes and fears," he wrote in a pastoral letter released Monday. "Some have insisted they will not tolerate any permitted use of a blessing liturgy in this diocese, while others have insisted they will accept nothing less than sacramental marriage for same-sex couples. Between these poles I have heard a host of nuanced positions, usually accompanied by the sincere desire for the unity of the Church."

The diversity of opinion in the diocese "should be allowed to express itself in local practice, by allowing the decision of whether or not to use this rite to be made by each pastor, in his or her own parish," Bishop McConnell wrote. "This 'local option' will allow each rector or priest-in-charge to minister pastorally according to his or her commitments and conscience, while putting none under constraint or duress."

Bishop McConnell also wrote that gay candidates for ministry who are in committed same-sex relationships would be eligible for ordination -- continuing a practice started by his immediate predecessor, interim Bishop Kenneth Price Jr.

Bishop McConnell said he would not conduct same-sex blessings himself but kept his personal views on the matter out of his pastoral letter. "I've always said I am called to be bishop of the whole diocese," he said in an interview Monday.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh includes 37 active congregations and about 10,000 members in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In 2008, a majority of the diocese's clergy and members, including then-Bishop Robert Duncan, left the Episcopal Church over liberal trends in that denomination. They joined with some parishes and dioceses elsewhere to form the new Anglican Church in North America. …

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