Episcopal Heresy Hearing Begins

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WILMINGTON, DELAWARE: A nine-bishop panel is meeting to determine whether retired Bishop Walter Righter should be tried for heresy for his ordaining Barry Stopfel,a non-celibate gay, as a deacon. The debate centers on whether the Episcopal church has any sort of doctrine on sexual morality. A decision is expected sometime this week, but for the church, any decision will have serious implications. "The church is in a real lose-lose situation here," says Religion correspondent Richard Ostling. "On the one side, they have a large contingent of conservatives who are morally opposed to ordaining gays or lesbians. But there is another large group that fundamentally disagrees and would be very upset if the church makes any ruling opposing gays in the clergy." For both sides, this decision is a fundamental dividing line. "The conservatives would argue that the Bible clearly forbids homosexual activity, and if the church leadership decides not to abide by this, than it is saying every part of the Bible is not absolute but open to interpretation. Righter and a number of others on the other side hold that view in contempt. Activists say that there is a sizable gay and lesbian population in the Episcopal church who would be alienated if the bishops decide that there is a church doctrine on sexual morality." Ostling notes that a number of other churches will soon grapple with the issue of a sexually active gay clergy. "The Methodists will take up this issue at their conference in April, and the Presbyterian church has also been forced to look at this as well."