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Episcopal Church Delays Vote on Gay Bishop
Aired August 4, 2003 - 19:01 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: But however we begin tonight with possible history postponed.
At the 11th hour, the leaders of America's Episcopal Church delayed their scheduled vote today on whether to approve their first openly gay bishop, Canon Gene Robinson.
The delay came after last minute allegations arose of inappropriate conduct with a member of the church and about a Web site maintained by a group with which Robinson is associated.
The story is still developing at this moment. CNN's Susan Candiotti has been following it. She joins us right now from Minneapolis.
Susan, give us some details about the allegations made against Canon Gene Robinson that led to this postponement.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The information we have is this.
Late last night, two things happened. First of all, some information contained in an e-mail or an e-mail, rather, was sent to all the members -- the bishops here, 106 of them, by e-mail containing accusations that Reverend Gene Robinson had inappropriately touched, let's say, this man who sent the e-mail, a man by the name of David Lewis from Vermont.
And the e-mail, if you're wondering how we got a hold of it, was released publicly by church officials. Let me show you part of that e-mail. We have an excerpt from it to show you. And it reads in part, "He put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation. No gay man has ever behaved towards me this way."
The man who sent this e-mail to the bishops says that he had this allegedly had an encounter with Reverend Robinson during what's called a convocation a few years ago.
Now the second bit of information that came to light that's being investigated now is what relationship, if any, Reverend Robinson has to a Web site that has an association with a group that he founded that counsels gay and lesbian youth.
Now, Reverend Gene Robinson has told CNN that he was not aware of this Web site and has no knowledge of it.
However, the people making the allegation want -- say that it eventually leads to several links down the road, links up with a Web site that has pornographic pictures on it.
And so various people are looking into this. And it caught -- once this information came to light, the head of the house of the Episcopal Church here said he was going to conduct an investigation. Here's part of what he had to say.
Do we have that interview now? Apparently we do not. So we will move on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. FRANK GRISWOLD, PRESIDING BISHOP, EPISCOPAL CHURCH: ... my intention regarding the bishop-elect of the diocese of New Hampshire. The standing committee and the 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: Joining us now is Reverend Hays Junkit of New Hampshire. He is a member of the investigating committee and he is speaking with us exclusively now.
Reverend Hays, tell us, have you made any progress? Have you spoken to the man who sent the e-mail and is making these allegations?
REV. HAYS JUNKIT, EPISCOPAL CHURCH: Susan, I can tell you that we are investigating these accusations fully. The presiding bishop's office is helping us from the beginning of this process. We began by having an open, fair transparent and spirit-led process.
And these accusations, of course, are very disappointing and we take them very, very seriously. And we are investigating them fully and have been fully investigating them practically all day today.
CANDIOTTI: Has any judgment been made or do you have any further information about the background of the man who is making the allegations as yet?
JUNKIT: Well, no, absolutely not. We don't want to characterize the person making these accusations. We take them very seriously. Any complainant in any sort of complaint of this sort is taken with care, and with great seriousness. So, no, I would have no characterization except that we take these accusations seriously.
CANDIOTTI: And you're looking into them. Thank you very much, indeed. And there's no timetable for this. They don't know when the investigation will be complete. Back to you.
COOPER: All right. Susan Candiotti, thanks for the update.
Joining us now from Minneapolis, where the Episcopal Church has been meeting, we have Susan Russell, the executive director of the gay Episcopal group Claiming the Blessing. Reverend Russell, thanks very much for being with us.
SUSAN RUSSELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CLAIMING THE BLESSING: Thank you very much for having me.
COOPER: What do you make of these -- I guess you could term them 11th hour allegations, just hours away from when the canon, a decision was to be made about his future. All of a sudden these two allegations come up.
RUSSELL: Of course, we're very concerned, but I would echo what the gentleman from New Hampshire said. We're taking them seriously. But the investigation is ongoing.
I have absolute confidence in Gene Robinson and his ability to be a wonderful bishop. And I also have confidence in the process that's been set up by the Episcopal Church. And I'm deeply gratified that I'm part of a church that when allegations of misconduct come forward, we have in place a process to investigate them openly, transparently and expeditiously.
COOPER: Which of the allegations do you think it is that really has motivated most concern on the behalf of some church members. I mean, this thing about the Web site, you know, I guess my understanding is he's affiliated with some Web site that if you then, you know, four or five links away, there is some sort of -- something which someone deemed pornography.
RUSSELL: Precisely. You know, and my concern with that is, you know, frankly I've spent a lot of time on the Web. And I'm always four or five clicks away from something I don't want to see.
I think at this point to cast aspersions on Gene's fitness to be a bishop because a Web site from an organization that he's affiliated with five clicks away will come to something you don't want to see, I think is disingenuous and I don't think it will be persuasive to the people of this church or this convention.
COOPER: Where does this go from here? I man, this decision was supposed to be made, the vote, I think, was supposed to be 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.
COOPER: That's obviously not going to happen. How long is this investigation going to go on? Any idea?
RUSSELL: We -- No idea precisely. We were scheduled to go to vote today, but my sources tell me that they're moving along on the investigation. And there's every hope that perhaps we'll have a resolution to it as early as the close of business tomorrow.
We are here in Minneapolis in convention until Friday of this week. So there is plenty of time for us all to take a deep breath, let the spirit do the work it needs to do and to trust the process.
COOPER: But you're pretty sure by the time Friday comes around, this thing is going to be decided one way or another?
RUSSELL: I'm confident that by the time Friday and we leave general convention we'll have a decision on this matter. And I'm confident that Gene will be confirmed in his election in New Hampshire.
COOPER: All right. Reverend Susan Russell, appreciate you joining us, thanks very much.
RUSSELL: Thanks so much for having me.
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