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Episcopalians Bypass Gay Minister

June 7, 1998

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) _ Bypassing a gay candidate, delegates electing the Episcopal Diocese of Newark’s next bishop on Saturday chose a pastor who supports ordaining noncelibate gays and blessing same-sex unions.

The Rev. John Croneberger will succeed Bishop John S. Spong as bishop coadjutor. Spong will retire in 2000.

Croneberger defeated five other candidates, including the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Although all six candidates, like Spong, favor ordination of gays and blessing same-sex unions, Robinson would have been the nation’s first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

Croneberger, a priest for more than 34 years and rector of the Church of Atonement in Tenafly for 18 years, won with 137 of the 151 votes by clergy members and 267 of the 327 votes by lay members of the diocese.

``It’s an exciting moment, it’s overwhelming,″ said Croneberger, 59.

The election still must be approved by a majority of the dioceses and bishops in the 2.5 million-member Episcopal Church of America.

Conservative Episcopalians had already started readying for a protest in case Robinson won.

``It was clear the diocese was not quite ready to take that kind of bold move, especially in light of the controversy it would start though the church,″ said Jim Solheim, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

Robinson, 51, was once married and has two daughters, but now lives with a man. A telephone message left at his home Saturday was not returned.

Croneberger and the Rev. Jack McKelvey, the assistant bishop of the Newark Diocese, had been the top two vote-getters, followed by Robinson.

After three ballots, when Croneberger had received a majority of the clergy vote but not the lay people vote, McKelvey withdrew and tossed his support to his longtime friend. Croneberger then won on the fourth ballot.

Rev. Brian Laffler of St. Anthony’s Church of Padua in Hackensack, considered one of the more traditional parishes in the diocese, said bypassing Robinson showed the diocese wanted to get away from the attention it gained under Spong.

Spong has been a lightning rod for controversy during much of his tenure, especially for his support of same-sex marriages and ordination of openly gay ministers.

Although Croneberger has similar views, some church members felt he would not be as controversial.

``I do think this is a swing by the people of the diocese toward a desire for a lower profile type-episcopate,″ Laffler said.

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