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Deck stacked against Bishop Love in disciplinary hearing

Deck stacked against Bishop Love in disciplinary hearing
Bishop Knisely's final question holds key to the Mind of the Church

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
www.virtueonline.org
June13, 2020

For more than three hours, Bishop William Love (IX Albany) sat relatively mute while his diocesan chancellor, the Rev. Chip Strickland, and The Episcopal Church Attorney, Paul Cooney, haggled over the wording and phraseology and nuances of Episcopal Church canons, the church's constitutional articles, General Convention resolutions, and Book of Common Prayer rubrics.

In the end it was Bishop Nicholas Knisely's (XIII Rhode Island) final question that really defined the church's hoped for outcome that Bishop Love would find a way to capitulate and compromise what he holds dear and open up his diocese to unbridled same-sex marriage.

"What would Bishop Love like to see General Convention do that would rise to the level where he (Bishop Love) would then say: 'Yes, General Convention has acted properly and I will follow what General Convention is asking.'?" Bishop Knisely asked Fr. Strickland.

"The short answer is: there is not going to be anything along the lines of changing his mind or satisfy him or putting him in a (compromising) position. 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 (Episcopal) Church; if those things change, then he'll have to make his decisions."

There was such a finality in Fr. Strickland's answer on behalf of Bishop Love, that the three hours' meeting ended in fewer than 90 seconds. However, it will take several weeks for the hearing panel for the Disciplinary Board of Bishops to render its written decision.

Friday's (June 12) Disciplinary Board of Bishops' hearing had its embryonic start at the 2018 General Convention, when Resolution B-012 was passed. The resolution theologically threw the doors open for same-sex marriage rites to be celebrated in all dioceses of The Episcopal Church, in line with the US Supreme Court's 2015 decision mandating same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

"We in the Diocese of Albany understand where the Church is headed," Fr. Strickland explained. "There is an overwhelming consensus in the church today for same-sex marriage. We know that."

Initially, seven American Episcopal bishops took umbridge, standing as a united front against celebration of same-sex marriage in their respective dioceses. The bishops were: Greg Brewer (Central Florida); George Sumner (VII Dallas); John Howard (VIII Florida); Michael Smith (XI North Dakota) Dan Martins (XI Springfield); John Bauerschmidt (XI Tennessee); and Bishop Love.

Bishop Love's chancellor addressed the issue of seven of the eight conservative bishops quickly folding on implementing B-012 in their respective dioceses.

"We are not suggesting that General Convention was confused or fumbling around, or not understanding what it was doing (in passing B-012), Fr. Strickland explained. "We're not asking this panel to overturn B-012."

Going on, he reflected: "From a practical prospect, B-012 has been a success; seven of the eight descending bishops embraced it and have used it. And that is their propagative. ... One hundred of the 101 dioceses in the church now embrace same-sex marriage. This guy (Bishop Love) is sticking out like a sore thumb."

Sitting in judgement of Bishop Love are three of his own House of Bishops colleagues: Hearing Panel President Nicholas Knisley (XIII Rhode Island); Jennifer Brooke-Davidson (West Teas-suffragan); and Herman Hollerith (X Southern Virginia-retired.) The other members of the Hearing Panel are Fr. Erik Larsen, formerly of St. Columbia Chapel in Middletown, Rhode Island; and Melissa Perrin, a part of the laity in the Diocese of Chicago. Support staff include: Diocese of Newark Chancellor Diane Sammons, serving as counsel to the Hearing Panel; Diocese of Rhode Island Administrative Assistant, Hearing Panel Clerk Elizabeth Crawley; and Jody Lambert as the stenographer.

Front and center of the Hearing Panel were the two attorneys debating both sides of the issue. Arguing for The Episcopal Church was Paul Cooley, an attorney from Rockville, Maryland. Defending Bishop Love is Fr. Strickland. Their arguments swirled around interpreting the wording of Resolution B-012; Canon 1.18; Article X; the Diocese of Albany canons, the meaning of Bishop Love's Pastoral Directive; the definition of marriage; the implications of the 1996 Righter trial; and the finer points of prayer book revision.

RESOLUTION B-012

The crux of the canonical problem surrounding Bishop Love is his interpretation of Resolution B-012's canonical reach which purportedly mandates the celebration of same-sex marriage rites in all domestic Episcopal Church dioceses. Bishop Love has stood firm in forbidding his clergy from performing such alternative ceremonies in his diocese.

The Episcopal Church contends that B-012 is an "enabling" resolution under Article X and Canon II.3.6 which gives the contested 2018 General Convention resolution canonical standing with a binding effect on all dioceses.

Resolution B-012 provides for Marriage Rites for the Whole Church which authorizes the continued use trial liturgies for same-sex marriage in the form of "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage" and "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage" and "The Blessing of a Civil Marriage" which were put into place through the passage of the Resolution A-049, which authorized the uses of Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships.

Bishop Love's attorney says that B-012 is not an enabling canon, rather a "permissive" canon which does not mandate same-sex marriage across the board in all dioceses.

CANON I.18

Canon I.18 is the "Marriage Canon," which was gutted of its traditional language by the 2012 General Convention when Resolution D091 removed the wording "man and woman," replacing it with "two people."

Then three years later, the 2015 General Convention. Resolution A-036 changed the words "Holy Matrimony" to "Marriage." This resolution stated "Every Member of the Clergy of this Church shall conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage," and that "Members of the Clergy may solemnize a marriage using any of the liturgical forms authorized by this Church."

The Church attorney explained that the amendment to Canon I.18 is "far more than making language gender natural. It is about fundamentally restating who has access to the Sacrament Rite of Marriage in The Episcopal Church."

BISHOP LOVE'S PASTORAL DIRECTIVE

The Episcopal Church contends that by issuing his Pastoral Directive, Bishop Love has failed to conform to the discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church. However, the Church is not challenging his doctrinal understandings.

But Cooney said that by promulgating his Pastoral Directive, Bishop Love effectively pre-empted his own clergy's canonical discretion on who they will allow to marry.

Fr. Strickland explained that the Church's attitude on Bishop Love's Pastoral Directive is that it was improper because it has no authority under Title IV.7.2(f). Fr. Strickland said that the Pastoral Directive is appropriate to help clergy interpret the Constitution and Canons and follow them.

"That's precisely what Bishop Love was doing when he issued the Directive," Fr. Strickland emphasized. "Calling on clergy to uphold the Constitution and Canons of the Church and of the Diocese of Albany. Which we have argued are not in conflict."

THE DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE

The Episcopal Church considers marriage to be gender neutral when the 2015 General Convention struck the words "husband" and "wife" in favor of "person" or "spouse" from the marriage liturgy, thus changing the understanding and nature of marriage.

The Church's 21st century understanding of marriage is that it includes both same-sex and opposite sex persons and that is a "mandatory" definition of who may be married by The Episcopal Church.

Fr. Strickland explained that the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church as found in the Marriage Rites, the Preface in the Marriage Rites, Prayer Book Rubrics, and the Catechism define marriage as between a man and a woman

THE RIGHTER TRIAL

The late Bishop Walter Righter (VII Iowa) was a progressive. He ordained the first woman deacon in 1976 and brought the first woman priest 1978. After retiring and going to Newark as an assistant bishop, he championed the ordination of noncelibate gays. In 1990, he ordained a partnered homosexual as deacon, violating 1979 Resolution A-053 on Guidelines on the Ordination of Homosexuals which states "it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual."

In 1996, he was brought up on heresy charges for violating a doctrine of the church and his ordination vows. In a 7-1 decision, the court for the Trial of a Bishop dismissed the charges against Bishop Righter stating that the Episcopal Church "has no doctrine prohibiting the ordination of homosexuals" and that Bishop Righter did not contradict the "core doctrine" of the church.

At the time he said: "I'm not guilty of heresy. There isn't anything in the church's canons or traditions that says you can't ordain gay people."

Settling on the term "core doctrine", the Church's attorney explained that "core doctrine" is basic, central and unchangeable tenants of the Christian faith. And that marriage does not rise to that level, but is rather a "doctrinal teaching", understandings that are very important to the faithful, but are not "core doctrine" which is limited and enforceable by Title IV canons. "Doctrinal teachings" are subject to change over time.

Cooney continued: "The Church submits that theological understanding of the Church concerning marriage consists of 'doctrinal teaching' and not 'Title IV Doctrine'."

However, Fr. Strickland explained that Doctrine of the Church is defined in Canon IV.2 saying: "The Doctrine of the Church is said to be found in the Sacramental Rites of the Book of Common Prayer."

BISHOP LOVE SPEAKS

Twice, Bishop Love was given the opportunity to say a few words. First at the start of the hearing before the attorneys took the floor, where he spoke very briefly saying that whatever the outcome of his hearing was it would have a "lasting impact on him, the Diocese of Albany, The Episcopal Church, the wider Anglican Communion and the wider Body of Christ." Then midway through the hearing, he was given an opportunity to explain his interaction with his people in his Diocese concerning the same-sex marriage conflict.

"I am very much aware that while the vast majority of the people of the Diocese of Albany are conservative and orthodox in their understanding of marriage, not everyone in the Diocese is, and I have tried to be pastorally sensitive to them. I have been in the very difficult position of trying to uphold my understanding of what God has revealed through Holy Scripture regarding marriage and try to uphold that with the same time recognizing there are people who have a different interpretation of the Scriptures."

He said that he has been constantly meeting with same-sex couples and same-sex attracted individuals and has spoken to them personally. He stated that he has great love, respect and admiration for those who are of a difficult and different understanding of sexuality. He noted that God loves everyone regardless of sexual orientations, but that the issue at hand is not sexual orientation, it is sexual behavior.

"In particular, where is it appropriate for sexual intimacy to be exercised?" the Albany bishop asks.

He noted that God does not forbid two men or two women from loving each other; or two men or two women from sharing a home; or two men or two women from being legal representative or health care proxies for each other. However, the line is drawn at sexual expression.

"The only thing I have been arguing in terms of what God has revealed in Holy Scripture regarding this matter is that when it come to sexual intimacy, that has been reserved by God to be carried out in the confines of marriage between a man and a woman," he explained.

SEEKING THE MIND OF CONVENTION

When the attorneys completed their arguments, Bishop Knisely said he wanted to delve deeper into the mind of General Convention to discern its will. The will of General Convention is revealed through its Resolutions.

"After hearing the arguments from both sides on their motions we will work to come to a decision soon as reasonably possible," Bishop Knisely explained.

He is going to see if he can lay his hands on the House of Deputies' and House of Bishops' transcripts on both Resolution B012 and resolutions on Prayer Book revision. The bishop wasn't sure if he could secure them through the Office of General Convention or if he would have to go the Episcopal Church Archives to find what he is looking for.

"When a decision has been reached, we will issue a written decision and then take whatever step will be appropriate," the bishop continued. "It is not anticipated, in anyway, that this will be ended as of this afternoon or in the next few days."

"The Hearing Panel will now confer among themselves and come up with their verdict, which won't be made public for several weeks," Bishop Love fleshed out in an e-mail to VOL. "Once they decide on a verdict, they will have to write a written argument supporting their decision."

Due to the continued impact of the Coronavirus, the Panel Hearing was conducted over online Zoom. There was a steady online audience hovering around 700 during the discussions. More than 650 running real time comments were made including some by bishops. Bishop Daniel Martins (XI Springfield) was following online as was Nigerian Bishop Olukayode Adebogun. Before evening, more than 7,000, and counting, had viewed the Facebook on demand replay.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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