Bishop Frank T. Griswold III, who as the chief primate and pastor of the Episcopal Church in America defied a threatened schism in 2003 by presiding — in a bulletproof vest — at the ordination of the denomination’s first openly gay bishop, died on March 5 in Philadelphia.
He was 85. His death, in a hospital, was caused by respiratory failure, his daughter Eliza Griswold said. A scholarly moderate elected to a nine-year term as presiding bishop in 1997, Bishop Griswold inherited a shrinking but disproportionately influential membership scarred by financial impropriety, hobbled by deficits and confronted by stark ideological divides, both within the American church and between the church and its global parent, the Anglican Communion.
Those widening divisions had been provoked by discord over the role of women in the church, revisions to its centuries-old liturgy, accommodations to other religious groups and the acceptance of homosexuality — including the trial, initiated by several conservative bishops, of a retired bishop on charges of heresy because he had ordained an openly gay man as a deacon.
The accused bishop was absolved. Bishop Griswold voted for the appointment of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 “because,” he said at the time, “I see no impediment to assenting to the overwhelming choice” of the diocese’s constituents.