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Diocese Debates Report Advocating Blessing Non-Marital Sexual Unions

January 31, 1987

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ In emotionally charged debate Friday, leaders of the Episcopal Church’s Newark diocese divided on a report that urges the church to give its blessing to sexual relationships between homosexual, unmarried, divorced or widowed adult couples.

″It’s going to drive people out of the church,″ the Rev. John Negrotto of Holy Trinity Church in Hillsdale told a packed hearing discussing the clergy- laity report’s recommendations.

″Are we running a church or an ethics course?″ asked Chuck Meredith of Maywood. ″I think we’re crossing a line into advocacy and I don’t want to be a part of it.″

Negrotto said news stories about the report have prompted telephone calls from distressed parishioners ″in a proportion to nothing else - more than women entering the priesthood,″ which occurred a decade ago.

Other delegates to the diocese’s annual convention reported a similar flood of telephone calls, some supportive of the report.

Because of the report, ″We have people coming into the church, looking for what we have to offer,″ said the Rev. Scott Kallstrom of Grace Van Vorst Church in Jersey City.

The task force’s findings, embraced by diocesean leader Bishop John Spong, are a minority view among the nation’s 3 million Episcopalians. In 1979, the church’s General Convention voted down a resolution to adopt similar recommendations.

On Saturday, the body of 200 priests and 500 lay members will vote on whether to distribute the report among its 55,000 faithful for debate.

If the resolution passes, the body will vote on whether to accept all or part of the report’s recommendations as policy when it reconvenes next year.

Spong said he intends to ignite national debate on sexual ethics with the report, which the Newark Diocesean Convention ordered at its 1985 meeting. He hopes it will prompt church leaders to amend doctrine to embrace all believers.

Members of the task force acknowledged to the 50 or so people who packed a hotel conference room to overflowing that they did not attempt to include all points of view in the report.

That prompted angry comments.

″Are we going to rewrite the Bible?″ shouted one priest.

″I don’t want to be debating this with parishioners whose minds are already made up,″ said Negrotto.

Episcopal doctrine approves of sex only between men and women who are married. Traditionalists say the church’s teaching is centered on God, not changing social mores.

The task force said that because attitudes toward marriage have changed as more women defer it or reject it for careers, the church should accept premarital sex and cohabitation.

Homosexuals also have as much right to worship God as heterosexuals and their rights to church recognition and ministry should not be ignored, the report says.

Unselfish sexual relationships should be recognized if they manifest ″healing, reconciliation, compassion, mutuality, concern for others,″ the panel said.

″I find no healing message in this document at all,″ said the Rev. Al Salt of All Saints Church in Millington. ″Homosexuals who have come to a knowledge of Christ can be healed of homosexuality.″

That comment drew moans of disapproval.

″I am tired of hearing that homosexuality is sickness,″ Kallstrom said. ″There is no convincing moral basis for homosexuality being a sickness.″

Spong, a member of the Commission on Human Affairs and Health of the church’s national House of Bishops, noted that among those who supported him when the House of Bishops defeated the proposal in 1979 was the church’s current leader, Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning.

Browning would not comment on the report because that would interfere with the legislative process, said spokeswoman Janet Vetter in New York City

Spong said he expects the issue to be taken up again by the House of Bishops, which meets in September in Chicago.

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