U.S. liberal Episcopal church leaders, especially Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, are on the hot seat at the Feb. 21-25 meeting in Ireland of the world's Anglican primates, or leading archbishops. On threat of "discipline" and possible schism, the majority of the primates want the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) to "repent" of its actions in 2003 to consecrate an open homosexual living with a male partner as bishop and to sanction blessings of same-sex unions.
The primates commissioned a year-long study in 2003 to assess how to hold the communion together. Their formal response to the study's somewhat watered-down findings and recommendations, known as the Windsor Report, was expected by week's end.
A key contentious issue: differences over the meaning of "regret." Bishop Griswold made clear in an interview with The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer exactly where he and ECUSA stand:
"I think the regret we can offer wholeheartedly and as a unified body is regret for the consequences our actions have had in other contexts. But that does not mean that we necessarily regret the action itself. Certainly, I, having participated in the ordination of the bishop of New Hampshire, do not regret having done so, though I recognize the complexities that that action has had in other places and regret the pain that it's caused other people."
Untying the knot
For divorced Roman Catholics who want to remarry in the church, their only hope is to have the previous marriage annulled by a church tribunal. If they remarry without an annulment, they are banned from receiving communion. U.S. annulments are soaring: Of the 46,000 requests granted worldwide in 2002, the latest year reported, 31,000 came from North America-up from just hundreds in the 1960s.
Pope John Paul II complains annulments are too easily obtained, and he worries about the risk of corruption among tribunal judges. Now the Vatican has tightened the guidelines and closed loopholes, issuing new orders to tribunals that "are aimed at ascertaining the truth" about marriages, according to Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
Reasons for granting annulments include impotence and refusal of a spouse to have children, but the one most cited in U.S. circles is "psychological immaturity" at the time of the wedding.
· Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., announced he will retire in May after 34 years on the job. His son Stephen Jones, 35, a BJU administrator, will succeed him in the role occupied by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who founded the fundamentalist school.
· Georgia preacher Abraham Kennard was convicted this month of stealing nearly $9 million from more than 1,500 small black churches across the country. His scheme promised that for a fee of several thousand dollars the churches could become "members" of a company he owned that supposedly was developing Christian resorts. In return, he promised, churches over time would get a grant or a forgivable loan of up to $500,000.
· Michael Easley, senior pastor of a megachurch in Springfield, Va., will succeed popular preacher and author Joe Stowell as president of Moody Bible Institute next month. Rev. Stowell left MBI to return to his first love, pulpit ministry, as a "teaching pastor" at Harvest Bible Chapel, a multicampus 8,000-member church in suburban Chicago where two of his sons also are pastors.
· An appeals court in Sweden overturned the conviction of Pentecostal preacher Ake Green, who had been sentenced to jail for the alleged "hate crime" of describing homosexuality as "sick" and "a deep cancer tumor in the body of society." The hate crime law wasn't meant to prohibit public discussion of such issues as homosexuality, the court said.