Bishops back away from direct condemnations of 'inappropriate behavior' by colleagues

September 30, 2002

Faced with a strong 'mind of the house' resolution that would have chastised colleagues for 'inappropriate behavior' that threatens the unity of the church, the bishops of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Cleveland, asked the Committee on Pastoral Care to find a better way to deal with the issues.

The original resolution asked the House of Bishops to express its 'disappointment' with the bishop and leadership of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in its failure to resolve issues surrounding the deposition of a conservative rector at Church of the Good Shepherd in suburban Philadelphia. It also pointed to what it called 'extra-canonical action' taken by the bishop of Pittsburgh in offering the deposed rector a position in his diocese.

The resolution also lamented decisions in the Dioceses of Kansas and Delaware that 'went beyond the consensus achieved by the General Convention Resolution D039 when they formally authorized the blessing of same-sex unions.'

After a long, lively and occasionally confusing debate, the bishops unanimously adopted an amended resolution that removed the specific references. The resolution asked the pastoral care committee to seek a way to deal with 'breaches of collegiality' among the bishops and a way for them to 'support one another in waging reconciliation within the Body of Christ and to enhance wider consultation and our role as guardians of the faith, unity and discipline of the church.'

The resolution was presented by Bishop Robert Ihloff of Maryland on behalf of a committee of facilitators who attempted to distill the frustrations and concerns emerging from small group discussions over the weekend. Many bishops objected to the tone and use of language in the resolution. Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem said the resolution did not reflect the spirit of reconciliation that members of the house were seeking because it created a situation of 'winners and losers.'

Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia offered an amendment striking the paragraphs that specifically condemned the actions in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Kansas and Delaware. Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama, chair of the house's theology committee, made additional suggestions and the amended resolution passed unanimously with three abstentions.

During the debate, Bishop William Swing of California said that the church needs some way of dealing with chaos and the need for order--and a way to deal with situations that threaten a breach of collegiality. The final resolution retained a sentence that made it clear that the House of Bishops expects that depositions and other disciplinary actions be 'recognized by all bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.'

Yet many of the bishops were clear that legislation would not solve the underlying issues. 'Votes close off conversation,' argued Bishop Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis. At one point Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold expressed the exasperation of the bishops when he said, 'This is where I see the idiocy of the legislative process,' which makes it so difficult to 'move gracefully' and instead 'gets us deeper and deeper into chaos.'

In the end, Ihloff said that he was 'comfortable' with the amended resolution because it 'captures the essence of what most groups wanted to say.' He added that there was considerable frustration in the group discussions that the bishops had to deal with difficult issues that 'distract us from the church's mission.'

The resolution:

Jesus prayed that we be one even as he and the Father are one. By God's grace, we continue to grow in community characterized by Christian reconciliation, peace, and collegiality. That growth, and our Episcopal vows, require that we confront instances of inappropriate behavior even as we strive to maintain our unity and our focus and energy on the mission of the church.

We believe that the canons, used properly, can be an instrument of grace and a unifying factor in the life of the church. We expect that depositions or other disciplinary actions be recognized by all bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

In order to support one another in waging reconciliation within the Body of Christ, and to enhance wider consultation and our role as guardians of the faith, unity and discipline of the church, we request that the Committee on Pastoral Development create a proposal for

1. dealing with breaches of collegiality; and

2. providing assistance to bishops with diocesan situations which impact the larger church.

And that the report thereon be prepared and distributed to the members of the House of Bishops prior to the spring meeting of 2003 and be considered at that meeting.

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