Episcopal bishop removes priest in dispute over gay clergy

Ed. note: This article manages to say everything except the most obvious point that the priest got removed because he objects to the Robinson, the gay bishop.

STEPHEN SINGER Associated Press Writer January 14, 2006

HARTFORD, Conn. — The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut on Saturday removed a priest from his duties in a clash over the elevation of a gay bishop in New Hampshire.

Connecticut Bishop Andrew D. Smith stripped Mark H. Hansen, formerly of St. John’s Church in Bristol, “of the right to exercise the office of priest in the Episcopal church.”

Smith acted six months after Hansen’s “inhibition,” or suspension, that began July 13.

“It’s a very sad day,” Smith said in an interview Saturday.

Diocesan officials said last year that Hansen was suspended because he took an unauthorized sabbatical and St. John’s had stopped making payments on a loan for its building. Hansen maintained he notified Smith about his plans.

Smith said it was his duty to remove Hansen because the priest failed to meet conditions including recanting his behavior or statements that led to the inhibition. Hansen also could have denied the basis on which the inhibition was imposed and the bishop would have decided if the denial was in good faith, Smith said.

Hansen, who resigned his priesthood in September, refused to meet with Smith, the bishop said.

A message was left with St. John’s Church. There was no home phone listing for Hansen.

The conflict stems from Smith’s support for the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the church’s first openly gay bishop. Robinson’s consecration in 2003 has divided the U.S. Episcopal Church and expanded the rift over gay issues among churches in the global Anglican Communion.

“The controversies are still there. This is not about the controversy,” Smith said. “This is about his abandonment of the relationship he has as a priest with the bishop. People disagree with me (over Robinson) and do not abandon their relationship with the bishop.”

A diocese committee of clergy and lay leaders determined last March that Hansen and five other priests abandoned communion of the church and referred the matter to Smith, he said. He has not yet decided on action against the five other priests, who have been threatened with suspension.

“My hope is for reconciliation,” he said.

The other priests are the Rev. Christopher Leighton of St. Paul’s Church in Darien, the Rev. Allyn Benedict of Christ Episcopal Church in Watertown, the Rev. Ronald Gauss of Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, the Rev. Gilbert Wilkes of Christ and the Epiphany Church in East Haven and the Rev. Don Helmandollar of Trinity Church in Bristol.

The six parishes sought last May to be supervised by a different bishop because of their dispute with Smith over Robinson.

In addition, six parishes and five of their priests _ excluding Hansen _ filed a federal lawsuit last September alleging that the priests threatened with suspension were fraudulently charged with abandoning communion and denied due process because they were not tried in religious courts.

The plaintiffs also contend that diocesan officials violated state law when they took over St. John’s Church in July and appointed a priest to fill in for Hansen.

Smith said Saturday his decision removing Hansen was not related to the lawsuit.