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Gay Bishop Confirmed

Aired August 5, 2003 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news now. I'm told that vote has come in.
Let's go to Jeff Flock, who is standing by in Minneapolis to bring us up to date on all that.

Good evening, Jeff.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF: Indeed, good evening, Paula. It would have been, I think, a surprise, perhaps, if Canon Robinson had not been confirmed. And in fact, that's just what happens. He has been confirmed. We have word from the bishops meeting that 62 of the -- and correct me -- 107 or is it 106? I think it's 106 at this point.

But 62 of the 106 have given their assent to Bishop Robinson. And so he, in fact, does pass. There's been a long, strange ride, Paula, obviously, all day, yesterday, with those 11th-hour allegations. Now, though, it appears that he has gotten through, the debate today not particularly contentious. It was quiet. It was reasoned. Everyone got to say their peace in the House of Bishops.

And now, 62 of them have given their assent to the first openly gay man elected bishop to a mainline Christian faith, any mainline Christian faith, much less the Episcopal faith.

That's the latest from here, Paula -- back to you.

ZAHN: So, Jeff, walk us through the pacing of all this. The investigation took about a day or so. And a lot of people were wondering why the vote was even delayed in the first place.

FLOCK: Well, these 11th-hour allegations that we told you about.

One of them: that the bishop -- the now bishop had a connection to an organization that had a Web site. They had links on that Web site that linked you to another Web site that linked you to another Web site. By the time you were done, you could conceivably get to a pornographic Web site. Well, today, they had a report on that. And they said the bishop didn't have anything to do with the Web site for the last four or five years, so that allegation didn't stand.

There was another man who maintained that he had had an inappropriate touch from now Bishop Robinson. They interviewed him. They found out that the inappropriate touch turned out to be basically Robinson putting his hand on the man's shoulder as he responded to a question (AUDIO GAP) his own arm. So, having run that one up the flagpole, that really didn't stand the test either. After all of that was done, they went then forward with a vote. And now 62 people, 62 bishops, say OK.

ZAHN: So, while you don't have a 50/50 split there, certainly, it reflects the amount of division in the church. What is the thinking there about the long-term impact of this controversy surrounding Reverend Robinson's move to become a bishop?

FLOCK: I think that is obviously the big question. But I tell you, based on what I've heard today -- and who knows what the rank- and-file will do.

But based upon what we heard among the bishops today, I think there was a lot less rancor and a lot less divisiveness today we heard than we perhaps anticipated. Certainly, people have deep-held belief in this church. But keep in mind, this is a faith that also went through the process of deciding to ordain women. At that time, they said it was the end of the Episcopal faith as we know it in the U.S. It didn't turn out to be so. Some would even say the church is better off for that diversity that they have brought to the table.

So, I think it, Paula, does remain to be seen. But I can tell you -- and I am going to look over my shoulder here, because a group was said to be ready to walk out, go across the street into the Lutheran church and pray over there, have a service over there. I speculated earlier that perhaps that's some sort of a metaphor for the church, where some would leave, in fact go to other faiths. It just so happens the Lutheran church is the nearby one across the street. But we'll see if that has any long-term impact down the road.

ZAHN: Jeff Flock, thanks so much for bringing us that breaking news.

We're joined now by Daniel England, spokesman for the U.S. Episcopal Church. He joins us from Minneapolis as well tonight.

Thank you so much for joining us, sir.

First of all, your reaction to this confirmation.

Well, it's an important step for the church.

DANIEL ENGLAND, EPISCOPAL CHURCH SPOKESMAN: This is obviously a very broad church that contains many points of view. We heard those today expressed with some passion. Some will be elated at this news, others very disappointed. And yet the decorum and the civility throughout leads me to believe that things will hold together.

ZAHN: So you see this as a potential model for reconciliation, then?

ENGLAND: I think that the bishops over the last little while and -- have been working very hard on this idea of reconciliation, of trying to find a center.

And the presiding bishop of this church, that has been his theme all along, to try to broaden the center and hold it together.

ZAHN: Now, when Reverend Robinson was nominated, he vowed that, if confirmed, he wanted to be known not just as a gay bishop, but a whole lot more than that. But, with homosexuality such a divisive issue for the church, do you think that's even possible?

ENGLAND: Well, Gene is such a warm and caring man. People like him. Even people who stood against him will admit liking him. He has conducted himself in such a way that, if he goes about his episcopate anything like he's going about this election, I think there's every chance that he will be known as -- for what he does as bishop, rather than simply the fact that he's gay.

ZAHN: With the amount of hostility, though, that he will have to confront from even the own members of his church, how might that affect his ability to be the effective bishop he wants to be?

ENGLAND: Well, you have to remember that it was the people of New Hampshire who elected him. And they've known him for 28 years. He's worked among them for that amount of time.

And so I can't imagine why he would have trouble, at least there. Certainly, there will be detractors nationally and internationally, but they like him there. They elected him. And these bishops confirmed him.

ZAHN: How might Bishop Robinson go about the process of trying to heal some of these rifts that he has had to confront in a, at times, painful way for himself?

ENGLAND: Well, he has been reaching out. He's been very low- key. He's not gloated about this. He said all along that, if he is confirmed, there would be no victory party. He understands and has said to me that he knows how painful this will be for some people.

I don't think he's going to be able to get through all of this alone. I think it's going to take an awful lot of people on all sides determined to stay together and to work through this.

ZAHN: Well, Reverend Daniel England, thank you for joining us just minutes after this vote was tabulated and made public.

ENGLAND: You're most welcome.

ZAHN: Thanks so much.


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