A BISHOP in the Episcopal Church in the United States faced a disciplinary panel over Zoom last Friday for his refusal to allow clergy in his diocese to officiate at same-sex marriages. The hearing had been due to take place on 21 April (News, 4 October 2019).
The ministry of the Bishop of Albany, the Rt Revd William Love, was restricted in January 2019 after he wrote an open letter to his flock challenging the authority and legality of a recent General Convention resolution (News, 18 January 2019). The resolution requires that all bishops permit churches in their dioceses to solemnise same-sex marriages where it is legal under civil law.
Parishioners at St Andrew’s, Albany, burned copies of the Bishop’s letter on the church steps in outrage.
The Episcopal Church argues that the letter amounts to breaking ordination vows to “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church”.
But the Diocesan Chancellor of Albany, the Revd Chip Strickland, representing Bishop Love, said that he had not violated a canon of the Church, as the General Convention’s resolution did not have canonical status.
“We in the diocese of Albany understand where the Church is headed. There is an overwhelming consensus in the Church today in favour of same-sex marriage, we know that.
“However, as of today, and in 2018, the doctrine of the Church as found in the marriage rites, the prefaces in the marriage rites, and the catechism defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“It’s ironic that Bishop Love is on trial today for failing to conform, when, in fact, the facts in law will show that he’s fully conformed with the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church.”
The lawyer Paul Cooney, speaking at the hearing for the Episcopal Church, said that Bishop Love had not only violated the resolution, but also refused to accept the offer of the provision of liberal bishops to provide pastoral oversight for same-sex couples and those marrying them.
“Diocesan constitutions and canons may not be inconsistent with those of the constitutional canons of General Convention. By denying same-sex couples access to the authorised marriage rites, [Bishop Love] has failed to conform to the worship of the Church.”
When asked what the General Convention needed to do for Bishop Love to feel able to support it, Mr Strickland said: “He is doctrinally opposed to same-sex marriage, that will not change. At the same time, he is sworn to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church; if those things change, then he’ll have to make his decisions.”
The disciplinary panel is expected to publish its judgment within a few weeks.
About 700 people watched the disciplinary panel online, including the Nigerian-Canadian Bishop Olukayode Adebogun. The diocese of South Sudan has also offered the Bishop an expression of support and solidarity.