Connecticut Episcopalians Discuss Gay Fray

The Episcopal bishop of Connecticut will meet with six dissident priests tonight to settle disputes over the diocese’s support for gay marriages and the ordination of homosexual bishops.

Last week, Connecticut Bishop Andrew D. Smith threatened to defrock the six priests if they did not reconcile with the diocese. However, Smith gave the priests an opportunity to meet with him today, in the company of mediator.

“I have offered an opportunity for all the priests to meet with me, next Monday, in the company of Bishop Scruton of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, whom I have asked to help us in our conversation,” Smith wrote in a statement released April 15. “In light of this meeting, I will not take action today concerning the inhibition of these priests. I look forward to this meeting.”

Bishop Smith was one of the dozens of Episcopal bishops who voted in favor of ordaining an active gay priest, Rev. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire. Since Robinson’s elevation, the worldwide Anglican Communion has faced a schism that pit the conservative South against their more liberal North American counterparts.

Tensions escalated in during an international gathering this February when the US Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada were urged to withdraw from a key global gathering.

Domestically, relationships between liberals and traditionalists have been placed on stilts. Financial contributions to the national church body dropped and entire parishes rejected the denomination’s oversight. Hundreds more congregants left the Episcopal Church entirely in search for a more biblically conservative church.

The case of the six Connecticut priests highlights the domestic divide over homosexuality: the priests, frustrated at their bishop for elevating Robinson, halted their regular contribution (12.5 percent of revenue) to the diocese and rejected the authority of Bishop Smith.

A diocesan committee consequently found the priests to have “abandoned the communion” of the church. In a statement released late last month, Bishop Smith notified the priests that they could possibly be suspended or defrocked.

The priests and their supporters have rejected the charge, saying they “do not understand how we have in any way abandoned the communion of this church.”

The priests involved in the conflict are: Allyn Benedict of Christ Church Watertown; Mark Hansen of St. John's Church and Donald Helmandollar of Trinity Church in Bristol; Ronald Gauss of Bishop Seabury Church in Groton; Gilbert Wilkes of Christ and the Epiphany Church in East Haven; and Christopher Leighton of St. Paul’s Church in Darien.