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CONNECTICUT: Bishop Orders Six Orthodox Priests To See Him Over DEPO


Special Report

By David W. Virtue

BRISTOL, CT., 7/13/2004--Six orthodox priests in the Diocese of Connecticut are under fire from their bishop Andrew D. Smith over their request for DEPO, and he has ordered all of them to appear before him on or before July 24th.

The bishop has refused to meet all six clergy and their vestries jointly, demanding that they meet with him separately, compelling them to meet at Diocesan House. He has also refused to address all the issues of DEPO the six priests and their vestries unanimously raised in their letter to him.

In an exchange of letters that has clearly crossed the line from "conversation" to "compulsion", Smith sent a terse one paragraph letter to Hansen saying, "In my capacity as canonical overseer, I issue you a Pastoral Directive. You, as Rector of Saint John's Church, Bristol, shall meet with me in my office at Diocesan House, Hartford, Ct. This meeting shall take place on or before July 24, 2004. I expect that you will contact my office to set up an appropriate appointment."

On May 27, the six priests including the Rev. Ron Gauss from Bishop Seabury Church, Groton, the Rev. Allyn Benedict, Christ Church, Watertown, the Rev. Mark Hansen, St. John's Church, Bristol, the Rev. Christopher Leighton, St. Paul's Church, Darien, The Rev. Donald Helmandollar Trinity Church, Bristol, and the Rev. Gilbert Wilkes, Christ & The Epiphany Church, East Haven, sent a letter to Bishop Smith saying that the Clergy, Wardens, and Vestries of the six churches had jointly signed a letter voting unanimously to apply for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO).

The priests said they had reviewed the House of Bishops plan entitled "Caring For All Churches," and they failed to find any requirement that prohibited joint DEPO discussions for multiple parishes. They further requested that a record of the conversations should be taken in order to prevent misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

"We cannot envision anything that any of us might say regarding DEPO that should not be a matter of public record," argued the priests.

The priests called on Smith to repent of his action in the consecration of V.G. Robinson and also called on him to repent "for your ordination of other unchaste homosexuals to the ordained ministry in this diocese; and an acknowledgement that your actions have done serious damage to the worldwide Anglican Communion."

The priests argued in their letter that if the bishop showed due repentance there would be no need for DEPO. They suggested the Parish Hall at Christ Church, Watertown, as the venue for all parties involved.

"We intend to have transcripts made of all proceedings by a third party professional transcription service," they said.

The six priests said they wanted immediate care and pastoral oversight of a bishop "acceptable to us who affirms Holy Scripture, the ancient creeds, and the 39 Articles and upholds the 1998 Lambeth Resolution on human sexuality and who did not support the election, consecration and ministry of V. G. Robinson as bishop, nor supported the ordination of any unchaste homosexuals to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."

They also asked for suspension of assessment of funds to the Diocese of Connecticut mission and ministry.

They further requested a one-year review of the DEPO agreements in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates of the Anglican Communion or their appointed designee.

With the liberal bias of the diocese, the six clergy demanded written agreement that guarantees the future succession of clergy in their parishes rest in the hands of their vestries, search committees, and the DEPO bishop, and not the diocesan bishop.

They also asked for a written agreement that all decisions regarding future candidates for ordained ministry from these parishes rest in the hands of the rectors, discernment committees, vestries, the DEPO bishop and not the diocesan bishop.

They then sought a written assurance that Smith and the Diocese of Connecticut would not foster a ministerial environment that was hostile to their parishes' mission and ministries.

"We are concerned not just for the present situation of faithful, orthodox priests in this diocese, but for the future of our congregations when we are no longer here," said Hansen to Virtuosity. "We want to preserve the 'faith once delivered' for our successors and allow it to thrive continue after we have gone."

On June 15, Smith wrote Hansen recalling the visit he made on December 14, 2003 saying there were tensions in the air, "but we did worship and proclaim Christ as brothers and sisters, and we engaged in what I believe were charitable and beneficial conversations together."

Smith then said that a review of the "spirit and intent of the House of Bishops plan" made it impossible for a number of their expectations to be met within the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

Smith stipulated there were three major items that needed to be addressed - "the appointment of a bishop for the exercise of the delegated oversight: a pledge for the contribution of funds for the mission and ministry of our diocese, and scheduling appropriate ways that we, your bishops, can regularly visit with you."

On June 28 Hansen wrote back to Smith saying that it was unanimously resolved that they would "stand firm" with regard to all the terms set forth in their letter of May 27.

"Therefore, your request to meet with us separately as representatives of an individual parish is rendered moot," Hansen wrote, adding that this reflected a unanimous decision by the vestry.

"It is clear to us that the bishop has crossed a line between collegiality and a raw exercise of power, and any claim on his part to be acting in a conciliatory fashion will be much harder to sustain," he said.

"His pastoral directive has gone from pseudo friendly to outright legalistic," he told Virtuosity.


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