Lutheran bishops seek to calm opposition to Episcopal pact

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2000

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- A meeting of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America bishops has sent its 5.2 million members a pastoral letter acknowledging ''deep concern and opposition'' regarding a unity pact with the Episcopal Church but urging Lutherans to accept it.

The ''full communion'' pact, which allows sharing of ministers and sacraments, passed overwhelmingly at the Lutherans' convention last year and comes up for approval at the Episcopal Church convention in July.

The Word Alone Network, a group of Lutherans opposed to the agreement, has organized more than 100 regional meetings. Last month a caucus of 18 Lutherans from both sides of the debate met in Milwaukee to draft a ''Common Ground'' statement and bridge the gap.

Some Lutherans object to the requirement that they accept the Episcopal concept of the ''historic episcopate,'' a succession of bishops dating from the origins of Christianity, and the rule that only such bishops have power to ordain clergy.

Lutherans historically have allowed a variety of church structures, and have emphasized the ''priesthood of all believers.''

The bishops' letter calls for discussion about altering the clergy ordination rule ''in unusual circumstances and with appropriate consultation.'' However, it appears unlikely that Episcopalians would change their stance.

One opponent, Bishop Rick Foss of Fargo, N.D., claims as many as half of Lutheran church members oppose the pact. He said the bishops' discussion was ''difficult and draining'' and called the letter ''a first attempt, officially, to acknowledge that some people are going to find it very hard to live with it.''

NEW YORK (AP) -- A widely circulated Kansas City Star report that U.S. Roman Catholic priests die of AIDS at a rate four times the general population continues to stir debate.

The Star later amended its Jan. 30 article to say priests die at double the rate for other adult men.

But an AIDS expert writes in the current edition of America magazine that priests' death rate is not higher, and that new infections among clergy have actually ''trended downward over time.''

The writer is Jon Fuller, a Jesuit, physician, medical school professor in Boston and founder of the National Catholic AIDS Network. Fuller estimates the HIV infection rate at between 0.25 percent and one percent for clergy, compared with a United Nations estimate of 0.5 percent for all U.S. adults.

The Star's statistics are also criticized on NewsWatch, a media watchdog site on the Web, by David Murray of the Statistical Assessment Service. Using data for the 1990s from the Statistical Abstract of the United States, Murray says the AIDS death rate for priests and other Americans is similar.

Responding to critics, the Star said its estimate came from medical experts and counselors who have treated priests with HIV and AIDS. It did not identify them.

Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, communications director for the U.S. bishops' conference, said ''this was a highly sensationalized description of the situation. The tragedy of individuals was portrayed as a crisis of the institution. That was not borne out by the statistics.''

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