THE Episcopal Bishop of Southern Virginia, Susan Haynes, declined an invitation from a Roman Catholic church in Williamsburg to host her consecration, held last week, because its congregants had expressed “dismay and distress” at the proposal.
Bishop Haynes was consecrated in Williamsburg Community Chapel, last Friday, by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry. She became the diocese’s first woman bishop. About 1300 people attended, and a further 1000 watched the live-stream.
St Bede’s RC Church had originally offered to host the service because the diocese did not have a church large enough to host the event.
A statement from the Episcopal diocese at the end of last month explained that the decision to decline the invitation “arose out of concern and respect for the ministries and leadership of both the Catholic parish and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Learning that its intended use of the building was causing dismay and distress, the Episcopal Diocese withdrew.”
An online petition to “Stop Ordination of Female Episcopalian ‘Bishop’ at Catholic Church” gained more than 3200 signatures. It calls the proposal “highly disturbing given the fact that Ven. Pope Leo XIII solemnly declared Anglican ordinations to be ‘absolutely null and utterly void’, and the Church has repeatedly reaffirmed the fact that women cannot receive the sacrament of ordination.
“Simulation of a sacrament is an excommunicable offence under canon law. Additionally, Canon 1210 asserts that only activities which ‘serve to exercise or promote worship, piety, and religion’ are permitted in sacred spaces.”
It asks the RC Bishop of Richmond, the Rt Revd Barry Knestout, to “stop this event and the desecration of one of his own parishes”.
The Episcopal statement quotes a letter from Ms Haynes to Bishop Knestout and the pastor of St Bede’s, Mgr Joseph Lehman. “I am writing to withdraw from our contract to use the lovely, holy space of St. Bede for my upcoming consecration as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. We have so appreciated and admired your grace and courage in extending this hospitality and abiding by your invitation even under fire from those within your own flocks.”
In a responding statement, Bishop Knestout expresses “great sadness” at the letter. “In granting permission for this ordination to be held at St Bede’s, we were welcoming . . . those who have in common with us ‘the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.’
“We were following the example of St John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis who enthusiastically engaged in ecumenical outreach and hospitality. . .
“As I assure Bishop-Elect Haynes of my prayers for her and the community she leads, I ask our Catholic faithful to pray for them, too, and to pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with humility, kindness, gentleness and joy, be expressed and strengthened in all our faith communities.”