From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Charges against Bishop Righter dismissed by Episcopal court

From George Conklin <>
Date 15 May 1996 22:37:56

1460 (of 1462) JAMES THRALL May  15, 1996 at 13:16 Eastern (5275
The following was released by the Court for the Trial of a Bishop following
its session at the Cathedral Church of St. John in Wilmington, Delaware,
May 15, 1996

     An Episcopal Church court today dismissed charges against retired
Bishop Walter C.  Righter.  The Court held that neither the doctrine nor
the discipline of the Church currently prohibit the ordination of a
non-celibate homosexual person living in a committed relationship.  

     In early 1995 Righter was charged by ten bishops under Church canons
for "teaching publicly and advisedly that a practicing homosexual may
properly be ordained" in the Episcopal Church and for violating his
ordination vows for ordaining Barry L. Stopfel, a candidate from the
Diocese of Newark, who was living and continues to live in what is
described as a committed relationship with another man.  After the charge,
called a "Presentment," was endorsed by the required one-fourth of the
Church's bishops, the matter was referred to an ecclesiastical court of
nine bishops. 

     Seven of the judges agreed that the ordination did not violate the
Church's doctrine or discipline.    

     Bishop Andrew Fairfield of North Dakota filed a dissenting opinion
which adopted the Presenters' argument that the Church's traditional
teachings are part of its doctrine and the teaching against ordination of
non-celibate homosexual persons is binding on the Church and its bishops.
He pointed to evidence in Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer reflected
in a 1979 General Convention resolution which he held to be a proscription
of ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons.

     The majority opinion stated that "The Court is not giving an opinion
on the morality of same gender relationships.  We are not deciding whether
life-long, committed, sexual same gender relationships are or are not a
wholesome example with respect to ordination vows. We are not rendering an
opinion on whether a bishop and diocese should or should not ordain persons
living in same sex relationships.  Rather, we are deciding the narrow issue
of whether or not under Title IV [the Church's disciplinary canons] a
bishop is restrained from ordaining persons living in a committed same
gender sexual relationship." The Court also stated, "We remind the Church
that this issue will not be resolved and the Church unified in its faith
and practice by presentments and trials, nor by unilateral acts of bishops
and their dioceses, or through the adoption of proclamations by groups of
bishops or others expressing positions on the issues."

     The Court drew a distinction between the "Core Doctrine" of the Church
found in the New Testament proclamation about Jesus and in the Nicene and
Apostles' Creeds, and other doctrinal matters or traditional teachings on a
range of issues of faith, belief, practice, and morals which have gradually
changed over the centuries.

     The Court ruled that the Canon on doctrine protects only the Church's
Core Doctrine. It also ruled that other Church teachings and resolutions of
the Church's legislative body, the General Convention, may, at times, be
enforceable under the Canons but concluded that the teaching against the
ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons was not presently enforceable
under the Constitution and Canons of the Church.  In a concluding section
on pastoral concerns, the majority offered several suggestions about how
the General Convention, which next meets in 1997, might offer greater
clarity to order the Church's life on this issue, stating that it could
pass a Canon stating explicitly either that ordination of non-celibate
homosexuals persons is or is not permitted.  It also stated that a trial is
a poor way to clarify doctrine or to secure good order in the Church.

     Two of the seven, Bishop Roger White of Milwaukee and Bishop Donis
Patterson of Dallas (retired), concurred with the majority's conclusions
but raised an additional issue discussing the potentially disruptive
implications of the Court's decision.  

     A pre-trial hearing was held in Hartford, Connecticut on December 8 of
last year.  The Presenters, represented by A. Hugo Blankingship, and
Michael F. Rehill, Chancellor of the Diocese of Newark representing Bishop
Righter, agreed that the basic issue in the case was the doctrine of the
Episcopal Church.  At a widely attended public hearing on February 27th,
the Court heard arguments on the doctrine of the Church.  The Court
thereafter concluded that the Presentment also raised the question of
whether the Church's discipline had been violated and requested briefs from
the parties on that issue.  

     The Bishops signing the majority opinion were Edward W. Jones of
Indianapolis, presiding, Douglas E. Theuner of New Hampshire, Robert C.
Johnson, Jr. of North Carolina, Cabell Tennis of Delaware, Roger J. White
of Milwaukee, Donis D. Patterson of Dallas (retired), and Arthur E.
Walmsley of Connecticut (retired).  Bishop Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles
withdrew as a judge before the Court's decision was announced.  

     The Presenters can appeal the question of the Church's doctrine on the
ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons living in committed
relationships to a Court of Review consisting of nine Bishops.

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home