US bishop lashes Williams for coldness and contempt

18 January 2007

by Pat Ashworth

Pained: Bishop Paul Marshall

Pained: Bishop Paul Marshall

THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has come under fierce criticism from the Bishop of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, the Rt Revd Paul Marshall, for a perceived distancing of himself from the Episcopal Church in the United States.

While believing Dr Williams’s intentions to be good, and endorsing his reputation, the Bishop upbraids him, in a letter to fellow bishops, for spending more time talking to the moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, Bishop Robert Duncan, than talking to “our entire House of Bishops, or even our Church gathered in Convention”.

The Episcopal Church, he protests, was following Dr Williams’s “own carefully thought-out teachings on sexuality, teaching that he only last year suddenly dismissed as a sin of his academic youth”. Before they get ready for life alone, says the Bishop, “We deserve to hear from him, in the room with us, an explanation of his distance and intentions.”

He writes of the intense pain of the “withdrawal of a human who was friend, teacher, and colleague to many in this Church, with no notice that either his opinions or commitment were in flux.”

He describes the relationship between the Episcopal Church and Dr Williams as “distant, confused, and multiply triangulated”. Reports that Dr Williams has been badly advised are not sufficient mitigation: “Leaders are leaders because they show up when it is not pleasant to do so.” The nadir in the Archbishop’s relationship with the US, Canadian, and perhaps the South African Churches has been “the appointment of a virtual lynch-mob to draft a Covenant which will by all reports attempt to turn a fellowship into a curial bureaucracy”.

The Bishop also expresses himself disheartened by the “procession of ‘second gentlemen’ from the Church of England” who addressed the House of Bishops in the Archbishop’s stead, “while over-insisting that they were not so doing”. The Communion leadership has overtly and adroitly “played us for chumps”, says the Bishop. “There is a kind of contempt for our intellect there whose sting almost matches the pain of the overall strategy of isolation.”


The diocese of Bethlehem is one of two in the Episcopal Church which has not given its consent to the election of the Very Revd Mark Lawrence, Rector of St Paul’s, Bakersfield, and Kern Rural Dean in the diocese of San Joaquin, as Bishop of South Carolina.

The election took place in September, and the canons require that a majority of the bishops, together with the diocesan standing committees, must consent to the ordination within 120 days of receiving notice of the election. The notice is reported not to have gone out until 9 November 2006, in advance of a consecration date announced in September as 24 February 2007.

South Carolina is one of seven dioceses seeking alternative Primatial oversight (APO) since the election of Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop. Mr Lawrence’s declared approval of the request, and a remark that the Presiding Bishop’s presence at his consecration would be “a most unwelcome situation for the vast majority of priests and lay people in the diocese of South Carolina”, prompted the refusal from Bethlehem.

Its diocesan standing committee voted unanimously last month to withhold consent, on the grounds that Mr Lawrence could not “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” as the ordination vow required.

The crucial difference between the ecclesiology of Bishop Gene Robinson and the Revd Mark Lawrence, they said, was that “One clearly indicated that he would not work for reconciliation in a Church with whom his own theology and understanding of scripture disagrees. Fr Lawrence’s own words suggest that he would rather work with those who would expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion.”

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