[An unprecedented level of confrontation -- Halleluia! E. Fox.]
Subject: What next?
By Robert Stowe England , United Voice
On a bright, warm Sept. 28 the Episcopal Synod of America fired a shot across the bow of the Episcopal Church at St. Paul's Church in Brockton, Mass.
Immediately after the 11 a.m. service, ESA President Pete Moriarty announced to the congregation that the Synod was that day assuming episcopal oversight of the 125-year-old ivy-covered stone church.
"This is a level of confrontation that is unprecedented," said spokesman Jim Solheim at the Episcopal Church Center. Nevertheless, he said, "I don't think the national church will get involved until the Diocese of Massachusetts gets involved."
Moriarty told the congregation in Brockton that the Synod had appointed Bishop Edward H. MacBurney interim bishop over the parish, its congregation and its priests. MacBurney had preached and celebrated the Eucharist that morning.
"Until arrangements can be made for a permanent episcopal oversight by the Synodical Council [of ESA], Bishop MacBurney will be the Episcopal supervisor on behalf of the Synod of this parish," Moriarty said.
The congregation, which has a large number of immigrants from the Caribbean, applauded the announcement, then adjourned to a lavish luncheon reception for MacBurney, the retired Bishop of Quincy, Ill.
MacBurney said before the service that his actions could place him at risk of a presentment that could censure or depose him, thereby removing his title and rights as a bishop.
Moriarty confirmed that MacBurney did not notify or request permission of M. Thomas Shaw III, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, before entering the diocese to preach and celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
Moriarty said the diocese had previously denied the parish's request for Synod oversight. The parish sought Synod oversight after the diocese reportedly threatened to downgrade it to a mission and seize its property for refusing to pay its diocesan assessment.
St. Paul's has refused to pay its annual assessment since 1994, in protest of diocesan support in 1993 for the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions. These diocesan practices "are contrary to Scripture and Church tradition," said James Hines, junior warden of St. Paul's.
Shaw declined to comment about the Synod's and MacBurney's actions. His office referred all calls to a diocesan spokesman, the Rev. Canon Ed Rodman, who said that "the diocese does not recognize that they have left."
Furthermore, notes diocesan Chancellor George H. Kidder, the diocese notified the vestry in a letter last year -- after St. Paul's incorporated and filed with the state as an independent church -- that any change in the parish's status requires the approval of Shaw and the diocese's Standing Committee. The parish's departure is "a nullity as far as the diocese is concerned," Kidder said.
The diocese has not decided on any specific response against the parish, its priests or MacBurney. "The bishop and the Standing Committee are taking the matter under advisement," Rodman said.
St. Paul's multiethnic congregation, vestry and rector, the Rev. James Hiles, and the rector's associate, the Rev. Thomas Morris, have been in constant conflict with the Diocese of Massachusetts since 1993.
The conflict escalated to the breaking point just before Palm Sunday last year, when the diocese announced it had received complaints of sexual misconduct against Hiles.
The diocese temporarily inhibited Hiles from performing priestly duties at St. Paul's, pending further investigation and a possible presentment. Shaw visited St. Paul's on Palm Sunday, but was prevented from participating in the service by armed policemen hired by St. Paul's.
One woman claimed Hiles had engaged in sexual misconduct against her more than two decades ago when she was a member of Church of Our Savior, a mission in Milton, Mass.
Later, a second woman came forward who also alleged decades-old misconduct, followed by the former husband of a third woman alleged to have had an affair with Hiles in the 1970s. The third woman has denied having an affair.
The diocese apparently was the first to initiate a temporary inhibition against a priest under new provisions in Title IV of the national canons passed in 1994. Those revised canons greatly expanded the behavior that could be considered the basis for a charge of immorality based on sexual exploitation.
The canonical changes also allow bishops to inhibit priests even before a presentment occurs. Before January 1995, when the revised canons took effect, no inhibition could occur before a presentment.
The new canons also created a "window of opportunity" (lasting until the end of 1998) for individuals to file complaints of sexual exploitation going back beyond the statute of limitations, which was expanded from five to 10 years in 1994.
These canonical changes create a climate in which accusations establish a presumption of guilt until innocence is proved, said Hiles' attorney, S. Lester Ralph of Reading, Mass. Ralph compared the climate to the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials.
Ralph said charges against Hiles were fabricated by those bringing them, in cooperation with the diocese. The initiative was part of a plan to remove Hiles from St. Paul's so that the diocese could take control and end opposition to its policies, he said.
Ralph said the diocese forwarded evidence against Hiles to the Trial Court of the Diocese of Massachusetts before the trial. This prompted Hiles to refuse to attend his own trial by what Ralph called "a kangaroo court."
Rodman would not comment on Ralph's charge that the diocese forwarded the evidence. The Presiding Judge for the trial, W. Howard Mayo, also declined to comment beyond what was available in court records.
Those records indicate that a letter outlining the evidence was sent to the trial court before the trial. The trial court denied in a ruling on the matter that the receipt of this evidence biased the case.
Last May, the trial court found Hiles guilty of immorality on several counts of sexual misconduct. The case is now on appeal to the Court of Review for Province I.
Hiles returned to St. Paul's on Oct. 5 to preach and celebrate the Eucharist, and has since fully resumed the responsibilities of rector. "It was a glorious homecoming," said warden Hines.
An additional seven parishes (outside the Synod dioceses) might come under the Synod's episcopal oversight in the future, Moriarty said. That number does not include eight Synod parishes in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, which face conflicts over planned visitations by Bishop Allen L. Bartlett Jr. and Bishop Coadjutor Charles E. Bennison Jr.
A visiting bishop arrangement by Donald Parsons, retired Bishop of Quincy, had worked successfully since 1994, but Bartlett and Bennison refused to continue the plan after General Convention.
Bennison had pledged, as a candidate for diocesan bishop, to continue the arrangement, said David Rawson, an attorney in Berwyn, Pa., who represents the Synod parishes. Synod parishes gave Bennison his margin of victory in the election.
Bennison denies Rawson's claim. "I never made a conditional promise to continue the [visiting bishop] plan" in return for electoral support, he said. "They asked me for my views on the whole question of people's consciences."
Bennison said he told Synod members that "I would try to be inclusive of their differences."
An Oct. 7 meeting of the Pennsylvania bishops with eight Synod rectors ended with the rectors refusing to accept visits by any of the diocese's three bishops and the bishops insisting the diocesan bishop would visit.
A subsequent letter from the diocese to the parishes indicated that Bishop Bartlett will call parishes to arrange visits.
The new approach by the diocese is part of an effort coordinated with the national church to "break the Synod in Pennsylvania" and thereby weaken it nationally, Rawson said.
UNITEDVOICE Digest - 21 Oct 1997 to 24 Oct 1997
[COMMENT: It is now 2003, several years since this confrontation and many words about effective action. But our "conservative" forces have accomplished little over those years. One should not be overly impatient, but I believe much more could have been accomplished if "our side" had learned how to force truth to the table, and to prevent the systematic subversion of honest discussion. E. Fox]
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