Consecrated: but nothing prepared Gene Robinson for the protests

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The Independent US

The Reverend Gene Robinson knew there would be protests, he knew there would be people objecting to him making history. He knew those protestors would be vocal, they would not sit quietly by while he was consecrated as the Anglican church's first openly gay Bishop.

But surely the 56-year-old divorced father could not have anticipated the words of Father Earle Fox, a retired priest from Pittsburgh, who intervened dramatically during yesterday evening's consecration service in Durham, New Hampshire, after the head of the US Episcopalian Church asked if there were objections.

"Whatever else homosexuality is, it is a behaviour. It would thus be reasonable to inquire into the nature of such behaviour for which approval is sought," Mr Fox told the congregation of several thousand, including more than two dozen Bishops. "For males, about 99 per cent engage in oral sex, 91 per cent engage in anal sex, 82 per cent engage in rimming, touching of the anus of one partner." Before Mr Fox could get any further, he was cut of by the US primate, the Most Reverend Frank Griswold, and asked to get to the substance of the objection.

It was probably just as well. A copy of Mr Fox's entire speech, obtained afterwards by The Independent, suggests that the retired priest was trying to shock people and further widen the schism of the already divided Anglican worldwide community. "It was supposed to shock people," Mr Fox said afterwards. "Our side are too embarrassed to talk about it, the others don't dare mention it."

But in Durham at least, Mr Fox and his supporters were in the minority yesterday and even his dramatic intervention was unable to prevent Mr Robinson from being consecrated as the Bishop of New Hampshire, during an emotional three-hour ceremony.

Bishop Griswold said the objections were well known and that the Bishops had carefully considered the issues and decided the consecration should go ahead. He asked too for understanding. "We do our theology in different ways."

Mr Robinson would certainly welcome such sentiments. "Pretty soon, it is going to be time for us to get over all of this pain and difficulty and get on with the gospel," Mr Robinson said in a recent interview with The Independent. "That is what God would have us do and that is what we need to do here in the diocese of New Hampshire."

Here in leafy New Hampshire ­ where Mr Robinson was selected as the Bishop-elect earlier this year ­ there has been a weight of opinion in support of a man generally considered dignified, friendly and someone more than able to provide leadership to the church as it faces new challenges.

In the well-heeled university city of Durham ­ which hosted yesterday's event - most people seemed to believe that with who Mr Robinson shared his bed was a matter for him.

Local parishioners and members of the clergy, for instance, had shown their support for Mr Robinson by donating gold jewellery that was melted down and forged into a cross for him to wear during the service at an indoor ice arena at the University of New Hampshire.

Some divorced parishioners sent wedding rings. One woman, Judith Esmay, sent a pin to "right a wrong" she committed nearly 50 years ago when, as the president of her student association, she failed to support the membership of a black student. "It's been lingering inside of me that I should have done more," she said. "Being part of Mr Robinson's election makes me feel that somehow I have paid back. This has given me a second chance to stand my ground and say 'This is right.'"

But in the wider Anglican community or communion, most particularly in Africa and Asia, the fact that Mr Robinson's partner is a man ­ Mark Andrew, a local health official ­ is something that has created a controversy marked at the extremes by venom and hatred. The Primate of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, described homosexuality as a "satanic aberration unknown even in animal relations".

Even in genteel New Hampshire there was evidence of such venom, although it had been imported from Topeka, Kansas, where the self-proclaimed Reverend Fred Phelps runs the Westbro Baptist Church. Mr Phelps displays his own interpretation of God's love by hosting a website (Godhatesfags.com) which had described the consecration as "a sodomite whorehouse orgy".

Mr Phelps' supporters demonstrated outside a number of local churches that had refused to sign a petition condemning Mr Robinson's consecration. Gus Zaso, 68, a member of the St Thomas More Catholic Church, said he tried to speak to one of the demonstrators who was carrying a placard that suggested Aids was "God's cure" for homosexuality. "You couldn't talk to this person. He just kept repeating his lines," said Mr Zaso.

Mr Robinson has had to take the objections to his consecration seriously. Among the e-mails and messages he had received were death threats. In the weeks before yesterday's service he had travelled with bodyguards and the organisers of his consecration had arranged for him to arrive in secret, out of sight.

But yesterday ­ as in the months since he was confirmed as Bishop-elect by the Episcopalian Church's General Convention in Minneapolis this summer ­ Mr Robinson was not able to avoid his objectors

Mr Robinson will have taken comfort the majority of those among the 4,000 guests at the service supported him. "We just wanted to elect a Bishop. We did not expect to be at the centre of a controversy," said Ruth Fox, a member of the committee that had overseen the selection process.

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