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Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elects openly gay bishop

December 5, 2009 |  3:07 pm
Episcopal_bishop_ku7ctsnc_2  The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles today elected the first openly gay bishop since the national church lifted a ban that sought to bar gays and lesbians from the church's highest ordained ministry.

Clergy and lay leaders, meeting in Riverside for their annual convention, elected the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, 55, who has been in a committed relationship with another woman since 1988. Another gay candidate, the Rev. John L. Kirkley of San Francisco, withdrew late Friday.

Glasspool’s election to fill one of two openings for bishops of the diocese followed the selection Friday of the Rev. Canon Diane Jardine Bruce, 53, the rector of a San Clemente church. The two became the first women elected as bishops of the diocese in its 114-year history.

But it was the endorsement of Glasspool that riveted much of the convention as well as the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch. Glasspool is the first openly gay priest to be elected bishop since the ordination of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003.

Robinson's election threw the Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion into an uproar, leading to decisions by some conservative parishes and dioceses to leave the national church and resulting in a de facto ban on the election of additional gay bishops.

For a time, the Episcopal Church sought to discourage the elevation of gay and lesbian priests as bishops in hopes that strains in the 70-million-member Anglican Communion would be reduced. But the move failed to stem growing disenchantment by conservatives alarmed by the ordination of gays and lesbians, and what they saw as liberal interpretations of the Bible.

In the U.S. some Episcopal parishes, including four Los Angeles parishes, and several dioceses bolted from the national church and aligned themselves with conservative Anglican bishops in Africa and South America. So great were the possibilities of schism that the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, implored the American church to go no farther.

But in July, the Episcopal Church reversed course at its national convention in Anaheim, voting to open the top echelons of the church to gays and lesbians. The Los Angeles diocese is the first to test that policy.

Convention delegates said that Glasspool's sexual orientation was only one factor in their decision, which came on the seventh ballot for the position. They called her a gifted priest with extensive diocesan experience in her current role as canon -- or executive assistant -- to the bishops of the Diocese of Maryland.

"I don't think it's a referendum on electing a woman or a gay person," said the Very Rev. Mark Kowalewski, dean of St. John's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. "Those are secondary characteristics."

Home to 70,000 Episcopalians across six counties, the diocese is widely viewed as one of the most liberal in the U.S. church of 2.1 million members. Its bishop, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, is an outspoken advocate for the rights of gays in the church.

Glasspool and Bruce were elected to fill two openings for the position of suffragan bishop, who assist a diocese's primary bishop. The two women must be confirmed by a majority of the national church's bishops and of diocesan standing committees, which include clergy and lay representatives.

Besides Kirkley, Glasspool and Bruce, the candidates included the Rev. Zelda M. Kennedy of All Saints in Pasadena; the Rev. Irineo Martir Vasquez of St. George's in Hawthorne; and the Rev. Silvestre E. Romero of St. Philip's in San Jose.

Vasquez presented a particularly strong challenge to Glasspool; he finished with the second highest vote count and on several of the day's early ballots, he received a majority from lay delegates, while she had a majority of the clergy.

-- Larry Stammer in Riverside

Photo: Los Angeles diocesan Bishop Jon Bruno, center, with Rev. Canon Diane Jardine Bruce, left, and Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool share a light moment after their election as "suffragan" bishops. Glasspool was elected as the first openly gay bishop since the national church lifted a ban that sought to bar gays and lesbians from the church's highest ordained ministry. Photo credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times