Bishop John Spong of Newark, N.J., one of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church’s most controversial liberals, threw down another challenge to conservative critics December 16th when he ordained a practicing homosexual to the priesthood.

The ordination of the 34-year-old Mr. Williams at All Saints Church in Hoboken is not the first ordination of an openly gay person in the Episcopal Church.  The Rev. Ellen Barrett, a lesbian and deacon, broke that barrier when she was ordained by Bishop Paul Moore of New York in 1977.

But the ordination of Mr. Williams is notable for the way it focused on his homosexuality.  The Diocese of Newark publicly announced the plans to ordain him five days before the ceremony, saying Bishop Spong would “celebrate an unusual and probably unique sacramental act by ordaining an avowed, non-celibate gay man to the Episcopal priesthood.”

The swiftest criticism of Bishop Spong’s action came from the newly formed Episcopal Synod of America, a traditionalist organization opposed to feminism and moral libertinism founded last summer.  It counts six active Episcopal bishops among its members.