ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up on the program Hurricane Paul is now merely tropical storm Paul, and we ask what happened to the big hurricane season we are supposed to be having.
First, I'm joined by Bishop Andrew Smith. He is the leader of the Episcopal Diocese in the state of Connecticut and he is on the line with us from his office in Hartford. Bishop Smith, welcome to DAY TO DAY.
Bishop ANDREW SMITH (Leader, Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut): Good to be with you.
CHADWICK: And over the weekend, Friday actually, you told Episcopal priests in Connecticut that they can now bless same-sex unions in church ceremonies. This is not exactly the same thing as a marriage, but still, it probably contravenes world church policy. How come this announcement on Friday?
Bishop SMITH: There are a couple of reasons. One is that I've been led for some time in my own heart and faith to believe that persons who live in same sex committed relationships are absolutely deserving of full inclusion in the life of the church, including its blessing.
The Episcopal Church has not made a definitive statement on that, one way or another. It's a matter of some contention in the Anglican communion, and one of the hopes was that the communion would engage in discussion and dialogue and listening on the issue, but that simply hasn't happen.
Coupled with the reality of civil unions in Connecticut and the number of gay and lesbian-partnered persons who are faithful participants and members of the Episcopal Church in this diocese, I believe that the time had come to remove the prohibition against any form of blessing that had been in place.
CHADWICK: Several others bishops in similar circumstances in other states have made the same decision that you have made - nine others I think. Still, many others haven't, and this issue divides the church. And this must be troubling to you.
Bishop SMITH: It is. My concern about the division that this causes is that it has led to estrangement. We - our church is no stranger to divisions. We have been divided almost over almost every issue that has come along. What concerns me is that this question has become so divisive that for some it is a reason to try to break off a part of the church and have it leave.
CHADWICK: Well Bishop Smith, if that is your concern, why not indeed wait for the church as a whole to resolve itself on this question, rather than saying I will make this statement, I will make this stand.
Bishop SMITH: Because, why not wait - I don't believe that the church will move to resolve the question in any kind of way that will produce an identifiable, touchable decision or consensus that some people are looking for. In the Episcopal Church we are hierarchical, but we also are democratic in the sense that we function through a general convention of laity, clergy and bishops.
Even if that convention were to speak it would be by vote and the vote would require a simple majority. Is that consensus? No, it is not. And that process takes a number of years. I think the time is right, now, for us here in Connecticut, as part of the Episcopal Church, to join the other dioceses that permit pastoral ministries of blessing.
CHADWICK: There are churches in Connecticut, Bishop Smith, who oppose this decision of yours strongly.
Bishop SMITH: That's true.
CHADWICK: These are not bad Episcopalians these are not people who are in error in their hearts, they believe what they believe and this decision necessarily causes them anguish doesn't it?
Bishop SMITH: Yes it does. It does cause anguish, no matter how a decision is made about pastoral ministries of blessing whether to permit or not to permit. There is deep anguish no matter which way that question is settled by the action of a bishop.
You are absolutely right, the people who oppose this are good Christians, are companions with the other churches and with me, and we have served many years together. And my hope is that we will continue to serve and that we maintain the openness and tolerance, in the best sense of that word, for which the Episcopal Church has been known.
CHADWICK: Bishop Andrew Smith, head of the Episcopal Diocese in Connecticut. Bishop Smith, thank you for being with us on DAY TO DAY.
Bishop SMITH: You're welcome.
(Soundbite of music)
CHADWICK: And there's more in a moment on DAY TO DAY.