Head of Episcopal diocese OKs blessings for same-sex unions


HARTFORD, Conn. – October 22, 2006. Episcopal priests may give a pastoral blessing to same-sex unions in church ceremonies, the head of the diocese in Connecticut announced this weekend, reversing a long-standing policy.

Bishop Andrew Smith`s decision does not allow Episcopal clergy to officiate at civil union ceremonies but permits priests, through a blessing ceremony in the church, to acknowledge gay and lesbian couples who have had a civil union granted by the state. "At the heart of the matter is whether we as a Church will welcome and embrace, serve with and care for and bless persons who are homosexual and partnered as cherished and fully accepted members of the body of Christ," Smith said in a speech at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford at the diocese`s two-day annual convention that ended Saturday. "I believe it is right to change our current policy, which prohibits our clergy from blessing same-sex relationships." Smith said he acted because Connecticut recognizes civil unions, which became law last year, and that there has been no movement on the issue at the national level of the Episcopal Church. A report in 2003 to the archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, called for a moratorium on the consecration of gay clergy and same-sex blessings by the U.S. Episcopal Church. "What I have permitted is a pastoral ministry of blessing, which does not mimic a wedding ceremony," Smith said in an interview after the convention, The Hartford Courant reported Sunday. "I felt the time had come for the church to say `Yes` since there has been no movement on the question that was emerging. And, knowing many faithful gay and lesbian folks are leading lives seeking to serve Christ, I felt that now is the time I move to say `Yes.`" The decision was greeted with joy by the Rev. Pat Gallagher, who leads St. Paul`s Church in Willimantic. "I couldn`t be happier," she said. "I`m just so excited about it. It`s a right we should have." One church leader was not supportive of Smith`s decision. The Rev. Christopher Leighton, rector at St. Paul`s Church in Darien, called Smith a "perpetrator of false teaching." Smith`s decision was "defiant of Scripture and worldwide Christianity," he said. Leighton is one of five priests who have been in a theological battle with Smith since his 2003 vote in support of the consecration an openly gay bishop of New Hampshire.

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