"As I have listened to you, I have heard many passionate, and sometimes contradictory, hopes and fears," he wrote in a pastoral letter released Monday. "Some have insisted they will not tolerate any permitted use of a blessing liturgy in this diocese, while others have insisted they will accept nothing less than sacramental marriage for same-sex couples. Between these poles I have heard a host of nuanced positions, usually accompanied by the sincere desire for the unity of the Church."
McConnell, who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he will not perform the services himself, cited a need to be "the Bishop of the whole diocese" in extending the option to those priests who wish to provide pastoral care to same-sex couples.
"I think this is a fabulous step forward, and I look forward to the day when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offers equality to all," said Susan Pederson, Integrity's Province III Coordinator.
Integrity Pittsburgh issued a measured response on its web site, which read in part:
"We appreciate this announcement as a first step. We’ve patiently waited for this first step, and we thank the bishop for it. We feel this is only the beginning of full inclusion of LBGTQA people into the life and ministry of the church."Chapter Co-Convener Dianne Watson told the Post-Gazette: "Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual persons should have access to all of the rites of the Episcopal Church, no matter which local church they go to."
From across the Commonwealth, Integrity's Vice President for National Affairs, the Rev. Jon M. Richardson, responded joyfully to the news. He is rector of the Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd in Philadelphia.
"I echo the praise of the leaders of Integrity Pittsburgh in celebrating this step on the journey to real equality being offered by Bishop McConnell. The General Convention in 2012 made space for bishops to offer blessing rites to Episcopalians in loving, same-sex relationships as a part of a 'generous pastoral response' to the needs of gay and lesbian people, and it is encouraging to see that pastoral need being met for faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. While it's true that there are miles to go before we achieve real equality, Bishop McConnell's generosity is a very welcome development. I share in the joy of Integrity Pittsburgh and offer my gratitude to their bishop. I pray that their diocese and our whole church will shine as a beacon of welcome to all people on the margins of society."The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, Integrity's President, sums up the situation:
"The Diocese of Pittsburgh has been through a careful process to discern its way forward, and Bishop McConnell's decision to allow each parish to make its own choice shows a respect and pastoral concern for the diversity of opinion which exists. However, in his comments on the rite of blessing he seems be condemning it as an inadequate rite for the sacrament of marriage. He is -- of course -- correct, because General Convention did not authorize a rite of marriage. Integrity is committed to working for the day when a rite of marriage will be available for same-gender couples in every church, and gives thanks for each small step along the way."The Diocese of Pittsburgh split in 2008, in part over differences of opinion on human sexuality issues. About 40 parishes and 10,000 people make up the continuing Episcopal diocese.
Christian Paolino is Chair of the Stakeholders' Council of IntegrityUSA