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This article largely discusses presence of openly gay, lesbian or bisexual bishops in churches governed under episcopal polities. The existence of homosexual bishops in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other traditions is a matter of historical record, though never, until recently, considered licit by any of the main Christian denominations. Homosexual activity was engaged in secretly. When it was made public, official response ranged from suspension of sacramental duties to expulsion from Holy Orders. As far back as the eleventh century, Ralph, Archbishop of Tours had his lover installed as Bishop of Orléans, yet neither Pope Urban II, nor his successor Paschal II took action to depose either man.
The issue has attracted greater attention in recent years following the development of the gay rights movement, and the increasing discussion within some Christian churches over the legitimacy of gay clergy in senior positions. Most notably in the selection of Gene Robinson as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, prompting wider debate across the Anglican Communion.
It was customary in the past for individuals - whether clergy or not - to remain secretive (in the closet) about their sexual orientation and activity. This was mainly because there was generally low tolerance for homosexuality across society, and those caught faced severe criminal sanctions (often including death).
It is not straightforward to identify individuals before the 19th century as homosexual or "gay" in the modern sense of the world. Nevertheless, as far back as the eleventh century, Ralph, Archbishop of Tours had his lover installed as Bishop of Orléans, yet neither Pope Urban II, nor his successor Paschal II took action to depose either man. Public scandal also touched upon the fondness of Cardinal Scipione Borghese for Stefano Pignatelli (his likely lover), and Pope Julius III for Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte in the 17th century. In the 18th century notable examples of emotional and perhaps romantic relationships among bishops include Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart and Giovanni Lercari (the Archbishop of Genoa). In the 19th century Cardinal John Henry Newman remained close to Ambrose St. John and was attacked by contemporaries for his "lack of masculinity". The two were buried in the same grave.
The higher prominence given today to the presence of homosexual clergy, including bishops, in the life of the church reflects broader issues, both socially and ecclesiologically (see List of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality), concerning issues of social tolerance and the relationship between social change and doctrinal development.
This has precipitated crises in various Christian denominations, resulting from divergent construals of Christian ethical doctrines (see Homosexuality and Christianity), which in turn are associated with the interpretation of the Bible (exegesis and hermeneutics). Traditionally, Christian doctrine has categorised homosexual activity as sinful. It was not until the late twentieth century, with the growing tolerance and understanding in Europe and North America towards sexual orientation and gays and lesbians, that bishops and other clergy have begun coming out. However, the controversial nature of the issue in many churches has meant that such revelations normally emerge as a result of public scandal.
A 2006 survey of weekly church-goers in United States, for example, found that there remained significant opposition in some US congregations to the idea of gay pastors and bishops serving openly. This is most marked among Evangelical Christians, who are 80% opposed; to around opposition among half of Catholic congregations. Even amongst those who rarely or never attend church a disapproval of 40% was observed.
In modern Anglicanism
US Episcopal Church
It is in contemporary Anglicanism that the issue of homosexuality and its relationship to people in the episcopate has been confronted openly. Indeed, the only large mainstream church to ever consecrate an openly gay bishop who was not celibate has been the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, a member of the Anglican Communion, who consecrated Gene Robinson diocesan bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003.
There have been documented cases of other openly gay Anglican bishops, however. The first bishop to come out as gay was the US Episcopal bishop Otis Charles, who did so soon after his retirement in 1993. He subsequently divorced from his wife. He had been a bishop in Utah from 1971 to 1993, and after coming out became vocal in his support for LGBT rights while remaining a member of the Episcopal House of Bishops. In 1999 he was arrested and escorted away in handcuffs after a protest at the Episcopal church national convention against the church's historical treatment of gay people. He went on to legally marry his partner, Felipe Sanchez-Paris in 2008.
The Rt Revd Mary Douglas Glasspool, who is openly gay and lives with her partner of 20 years, was elected as a suffragan bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in December 2009 and was consecrated on May 15, 2010. Her election has attracted worldwide attention, including an expression of concern from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In response to expressions of concern that her election would be viewed as a threat to the cohesion of the Anglican Communion, Glasspool said, "I've committed my life as a life of service to the people of Jesus Christ, and what hurts is the sense that anybody might have that my name or my servanthood could be perceived as divisive."
Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts, a celibate monk who previously served as superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, discussed his experiences as a gay monk, priest, and bishop in the 2012 documentary Love Free or Die, about Robinson's election. A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, he had avoided broaching the subject of his own sexuality because as a monk "he did not want to send the message that, as some conservatives argue, gay people should be celibate."
Church of England
In 1994 the gay rights campaign group OutRage!, led by Peter Tatchell, began to concentrate on religious homophobia. It was revealed in the press that the new Bishop of Durham, Michael Turnbull, had a conviction for a gay sex offence and OutRage! disrupted his ordination ceremony. There were other bishops known or suspected to be gay in private and OutRage! held a demonstration outside Church House in London naming ten bishops and urging them to "Tell the truth!" Although the ten bishops were not named in the British press, their names were published in an Australian gay newspaper, the Melbourne Star Observer, and has since been published on the internet. They included Timothy Bavin (Bishop of Portsmouth), Br Michael (Fisher) (assistant bishop, Ely), John Klyberg (Bishop suffragan of Fulham), Michael Marshall (assistant bishop, London), Brian Masters (area Bishop of Edmonton), John Neill (assistant bishop, Bath & Wells), Jack Nicholls (Bishop suffragan of Lancaster), Mervyn Stockwood (assistant bishop, Bath & Wells) and Michael Turnbull (Bishop of Durham). However, OutRage produced no evidence for any of its claims.
At the same time, Tatchell began a dialogue with the Bishop of London, David Hope, who had not been named as the group thought that he could be persuaded to come out voluntarily. Press stories speculating about the personal sexuality of bishops led Hope to fear the worst and he called a press conference in February 1995 at which he denounced OutRage! for putting him under pressure. While admitting that his sexuality was "a grey area", he had "sought to lead a celibate life" and was "perfectly happy and content".
Mervyn Stockwood, who was gay, was bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Southwark, but also celibate. He even gently rebuked a parish priest for initiating the blessing of same-sex unions in the late 1970s.
Appointed as the suffragan Bishop of Edmonton (London) in 1999, the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley is gay and has been living with his partner saying that he is "a celibate Christian living by Christian teachings". This does not appear to have generated any significant controversy. Bishop Wheatley is opposed to the ordination of women to the episcopate.
In 2003, the Very Revd Jeffrey John, at the time Canon Chancellor and Theologian of Southwark Cathedral, was chosen to be the Bishop of Reading (a suffragan of the Bishop of Oxford). John has been in a relationship with another male priest for many years, though he also says that their relationship is celibate. As a result of the ensuing controversy, however, John withdrew his acceptance of the appointment. He was subsequently appointed Dean of St Albans. John again emerged in the debate over gay bishops in July 2010 following widespread media reports that he was the Crown Nomination Commission's preferred candidate for appointment by the Queen as Bishop of Southwark though subsequent reports suggested that this was not the case or that his name had been rejected following leaking of the proposal.
|Wikinews has related news: Church of England to allow celibate gay bishops|
In 2013, it was announced that the Church of England's House of Bishops had approved plans to allow gay men to become appointed as bishops if they were celibate, including those such as Jeffrey John who are in civil partnerships.
Bishop Mervyn Castle was consecrated Bishop of False Bay (a suffragan of the diocese of Cape Town) in 1994, but because most Anglicans outside South Africa were unaware of his homosexuality, and because he was celibate, no comparable controversy took place.
In 1995, Bishop Derek Rawcliffe, retired Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway in the Scottish Episcopal Church, disclosed his homosexuality. Like Terry Brown (see below), Rawcliffe had also served as a bishop in Melanesia.
Bishop Terry Brown, of Malaita in the Solomon Islands, attended the 1998 Lambeth Conference (which declared same-sex relationships "incompatible with Scripture") as an openly gay man (he also attended the 2008 Lambeth Conference).
Barry Hollowell, who resigned as Bishop of Calgary in the Anglican Church of Canada in 2005, came out publicly in 2008 after the death of his wife, who had been aware of his sexual orientation at the time of his election to the episcopate.
Roman Catholic Church in modern times
The official position of the Roman Catholic church is that bishops must remain celibate, and that homosexuality is a "grave disorder". Therefore revelations in the Catholic church concerning the sexual orientation of senior clergy have tended to be as a result of local scandal, amid revelations of sexual abuse. Randy Engel has documented many of these scandals, and also discusses Cardinal Spellman's homosexual proclivities.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired Catholic bishop in the Diocese of Detroit, has consistently been a supporter of New Ways Ministry and has also called for homosexual priests and bishops to "come out" and be truthful to themselves and others. Gumbleton has acted as a keynote speaker at Call to Action conferences. In 1995 he wore a mitre at a church service on which were symbols of the cross, a rainbow and a pink triangle in solidarity with the gay community. Later, he came into the public eye before the Vatican's Instruction with regard to the ordination of homosexual men was released, arguing against Fr. Baker's article on the issue in America.
Francis Spellman, Cardinal Archbishop of New York (died 1967) was long rumored to have been gay, according to a book by John Cooney, who said that many whom he interviewed took his homosexuality for granted. In addition, a book published in 1998 claims that during World War II, Spellman was carrying on a relationship with a chorus boy in the Broadway revue One Touch of Venus. Spellman defended Senator Joseph McCarthy's 1953 investigations of subversives and homosexuals in the federal government.
Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, Wisconsin retired on May 24, 2002 following the revelation that he had used $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to settle a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment. In a statement one week later, he admitted the falsity of his previous assertion that income he had earned outside of his priestly occupation (and turned over to the Church) exceeded the $450,000. In 2009 he confirmed that he was gay, but did not reveal any details of his relationships.
The auxiliary Roman Catholic Bishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Reginald Cawcutt, resigned in July 2002 following allegations that he outed himself as gay on a sometimes-sexually charged website set up for gay priests. Bishop Reginald Cawcutt blamed the scandal on the conservative U.S. organization Roman Catholic Faithful which infiltrated the now closed website, called St. Sebastian's Angels, and traced posting addresses.
In 2003, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër was removed from office by John Paul II for alleged sexual misconduct with younger men who were students in his care. Officially, the Pope accepted the resignation letter which Groër had written on the occasion of his 75th birthday. This made Groër, who had adamantly refused to ever comment in public on the allegations, one of the highest-ranking Catholic clerics to become caught up in the sexual abuse scandals.
In 2005, Juan Carlos Maccarone, the Bishop of Santiago del Estero in Argentina was forced to resign after images were released of him engaged in sexual activity with another man. Suggestion was made that the former state governor Carlos Juarez had been involved in the release after criticism of the governor's human rights record.
Most recently in February 2013, Cardinal Keith O'Brien (leader of the Catholic church in Scotland) was forced to resign as archbishop three months ahead of planned retirement because of allegations of inappropriate acts with four priests during the 1980s, but also more recently. O'Brien had been a vocal critic of the UK Government's plans to introduce same-sex marriage
In May 2009 the Diocese of Stockholm in the Church of Sweden elected Eva Brunne as its bishop. She won the vote by 413 votes to 365 and officially succeeded Bishop Caroline Krook in November 2009. Brunne is married to her partner, Gunilla Linden, who is a priest and with whom she has a son. Brunne is believed to be the world's first openly lesbian bishop.
Following her appointment, Brunne said: "I am happy and very proud to be part of a church that encourages people to make their own decisions." She added: "Diversity is a big wealth."
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