By: Lynda Bustilloz
Re: Heresy Trial -- Prosecution View [
Episcopal News Service #1396
RIGHTER TRIAL OPENS WITH STATEMENTS
UPHOLDING TRADITIONAL BELIEFS ON MARRIAGE
BY MIKE BARWELL
AND SARA BARTENSTEIN
(ENS) WILMINGTON, Delaware--The trial of retired Bishop
Walter Righter opened this morning with strong statements that the
church must uphold the traditional teachings about human sexuality,
marriage, and draw a line in the sand to prevent "sowing the seeds of
anarchy" in the Episcopal Church.
"Though the church is not infallible, there is at any given
such a thing as a mind of the church on matters of faith and life,"
Hugo Blankingship, retired chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia who
presented the case for traditional doctrine before nine bishops
judges. "Those who disagree are free to argue for change. What they
not free to do is to go against that mind of the church in their own
The trial of Bishop Righter is the result of a presentment--or
indictment--brought by 10 conservative bishops of the Episcopal
who claim Righter violated the Episcopal Church's doctrine, teaching,
and practices by knowingly ordaining a non-celibate homosexual man as
a deacon in 1990. Righter's ordination of the Rev. Barry Stopfel of
Maplewood, N.J., occurred 12 days after the House of Bishops had
reprimanded Bishop John Spong of Newark for ordaining Robert
Williams, another homosexual man, in 1989. Righter's decision, the
bishops claim, was an "in your face" action in direct defiance of
doctrine and resolutions of General Convention upholding traditional
church teaching about marriage, sexual expression, and what
"a wholesome example to the flock of Christ," in the words of the
ARGUING THAT THE DOCTRINE IS CLEAR
"The position of the presenters is this," Blankingship said.
church's position is understood and clear: they [bishops] are able to
disagree and there can be honest disagreement, but until that is
by the church--not by individual dioceses or by individual
it is changed by the church, it remains.
"If we lose our handle on that we fall apart completely,"
Blankingship warned, "That is why the presenters--as painful as
have brought this case where it is. If we don't hold to this, the
perception is we are going to lose what we have."
The court is seated in Wilmington to decide what does and does
not constitute the doctrine of the church, particularly as it is
what a bishop may or may not teach.
Blankingship opened his argument by reminding the court that
Episcopal Church, through the resolutions of the House of Bishops and
the 1979 General Convention, have consistently upheld "the
teaching of the Church on marriage, marital fidelity, and sexual
as the standard of sexual morality. Candidates for ordination are
to conform to this standard. Therefore, we believe it is not
for this Church to ordain a practising homosexual, or any person
engaged in a heterosexual relations outside of marriage." Any action
which condones or approves of sexual relations outside of marriage is
wrong, the presenters argue. Therefore, ordaining a man who is in a
homosexual relationship is a violation of church doctrine. Stopfel
partner of 10 years, Will Leckie, live together in the rectory of St.
George's Episcopal Church in Maplewood, N.J.
DIALOGUE WITH THE JUDGES
Throughout Blankingship's presentation, the nine judges
frequently interrupted him with questions and requests for
specifically asking if the church has different levels of doctrine
teaching, and if in the past the church had changed its doctrines.
Bishop Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles quizzed Blankingship if
the presenters believed the church had previously changed its
marriage by adjusting its understanding of divorce and remarriage.
you saying it is OK to change the church's teaching on divorce
had done so deliberately and corporately?"
Borsch added that "Scripture would seem to say that people who
remarry after divorce are committing adultery. Is everything the
Blankingship fired back that the church's doctrine on marriage
remained the same, but that its discipline or practice--not
changed. Blankingship summed up his arguments by saying that
resolutions of General Convention--which he said is a determiner of
church doctrine in the Episcopal Church--reaffirms doctrine which
Episcopal News Service - #1397
CHURCH HAS NO DOCTRINE ON ORDAINING
HOMOSEXUALS, DEFENSE CONTENDS
BY MIKE BARWELL
AND SARAH BARTENSTEIN
(ENS) WILMINGTON, Delaware--Defenders of retired
bishop Walter Righter contend that the Episcopal Church has no
clear doctrine on the ordination of homosexual persons.
Attorney Michael Rehill, chancellor of the Diocese of
Newark who is defending Righter, said in the opening hearing
before the Court for the Trial of a Bishop on Tuesday afternoon,
that the Episcopal Church actually has very little doctrine--that
is, those things which a member must believe in order to belong
to the church.
At issue is whether Righter violated his ordination vows
as a bishop, and publicly held false doctrine by knowingly
ordaining a non-celibate homosexual man as a deacon in 1990.
If convicted of the charges--known as a presentment--the 72-
year-old Righter could be deposed as a bishop, or suspended
from performing priestly duties, or simply admonished.
Rehill, who spoke for nearly three hours Tuesday
afternoon, argued that doctrine is limited to those beliefs to
which all Christians must subscribe as members of the faith,
such as the divinity of Jesus, or the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Other matters of faith are simply church teachings or matters of
discipline, subject to change over time, Rehill said. But if a
bishop does not agree with a particular teaching, that does not
As they had done during the morning session with A.
Hugo Blankingship, church advocate (prosecutor) various
members of the nine-member court interrupted Rehill with
frequent questions. They asked for clarification of his definitions
of doctrine and discipline, and grilled him about whether
doctrine can change over time.
Bishop Edward Jones of Indianapolis, president of the
court, asked the defense if there were levels or degrees of
doctrine. "One could say there is doctrine with a capital "D," or
dogma, and then there is teaching, something which is one of
the functions of bishops that may have various levels of
authority in the church. And you put all such teaching which is
not dogma under the heading of discipline?"
DOCTRINE OR DISCIPLINE?
Rehill agreed that anything which is not dogma or
doctrine is discipline, and is advisory as to how we live together
with other people in the world. The Episcopal Church, he said,
has assigned precious few teachings to the category of doctrine.
"Doctrine is the most overused and misunderstood word
in our church," Rehill asserted. He named as the sources of
doctrine the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and the historic
creeds. If it isn't there, it isn't doctrine, he said. But he added
that not everything in the Bible or the Prayer Book is doctrine.
He pointed to the writings of St. Paul, saying he found many of
the apostle's writings, particularly those about slavery and the
treatment of women,"disturbing," because they were written in a
culture which is radically different from the one in which we
live. He said that while the Prayer Book contains a service for
the sacrament of marriage, that does not constitute a doctrine of
"What I am suggesting is that just as the unique nature of
God does not change," Rehill asserted, "our doctrine of God
does not change. How we respond to God's call will change.
That will change in every generation, because that is what we
are called to do."
Rehill also referred to a report from the Church of
England which states that all bishops are called to be both
guardians of the faith and "apostolic pioneers."
"It does not mean building a wall around the faith, and
keeping people away from it. It means, be sure that as you test
the Gospel against the world and the world against the Gospel,
that you do so faithfully."
Whether the Episcopal Church has a doctrine pertaining
to the ordination of persons engaged in sexual relationships
outside marriage is the central issue to be decided for the first
part of the trial.
Episcopal News Service - #1399
Court for the Trial of a Bishop calls for further
statements to clarify issues
by James Solheim
(ENS) The Court for the Trial of a Bishop, convened to
whether or not Bishop Walter Righter taught false doctrine and
ordination vows by ordaining a non-celibate gay man in 1990, has
a memorandum from each side to help it clarify the underlying issues.
Following a public, full-day hearing on February 27 at the
Church of St. John in Wilmington, Delaware, the court went into
in an effort to determine whether the church has sufficient
proceed with a full-blown trial.
The court said that it would reach its decision and issue a
response as soon as possible but made it clear that it would take
On March 1, however, the court notified attorneys for both
that the court wants them to write a memorandum addressing two
"Do resolutions, statements and/or actions of the General
Convention or House of Bishops constitute disciplinary
authority, as distinct from doctrine, violation of which
subjects a bishop, priest or deacon to Presentment under Title
"With particular attention to the issue of discipline, does
ordination of a noncelibate homosexual person constitute a
violation of the ordaining bishop's Oath of Conformity?"
The court set a deadline of March 25 for the memoranda. Each
can respond with a reply by April 9.
The court also denied a motion filed by Righter's attorney
pre-trial hearing December 8 in Hartford, Connecticut. The motion
court to sever the second count that charged Righter with violating
ordination vows. The motion claimed that the court did not have
jurisdiction on Count 2 because the canonical procedures for
bishop to trial for offenses other than "holding and teaching...any
doctrine contrary to that held by this church" have not been
suggested that the count should be referred back to the presiding
for consideration by a panel of bishops and a Board of Inquiry.
The court did not rule on the motion because it decided to
the issue of doctrine first," which it did at the Wilmington
its March 1 response, the court said that the motion was "denied"
not offer an explanation of its action.
Episcopal News Service - #1401
COURT HOLDS HEARING TO DETERMINE CHURCH DOCTRINE
ON ORDINATION OF GAYS
BY JAMES SOLHEIM
(ENS) For the first time in 75 years, and only the second
the Episcopal Church's history, a court of bishops gathered
to consider charges that a colleague had taught false doctrine.
Packed into the Great Hall of the Cathedral Church of St.
Wilmington, Delaware, amidst a crush of media and observers, the nine
bishops of the Court for the Trial of a Bishop heard a full day of
arguments on the doctrine of the church as it relates to the
The hearing, a first step in the trial of Walter Righter,
bishop of Iowa, sought to establish whether there is a doctrinal
charges brought against Righter of "holding and teaching . . .
contrary to that held by this church" and of violating his ordination
LONG PATH TO TRIAL
The path leading to the trial began in 1990, when Righter,
serving as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Newark, ordained
Stopfel as a deacon. Stopfel, who has since been ordained as a
a homosexual who was living in a relationship with another man.
In January of 1995, 10 bishops filed charges against Righter,
claiming that the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual was at odds
with the doctrine of the Episcopal Church. A necessary one-quarter of
the House of Bishops subsequently agreed that the charges should go
In a pre-trial hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, last
court granted a motion calling for a discussion of whether the
a doctrine on the ordination issue sufficient to move to a
Media interest in the so-called "heresy trial" has been great.
Almost a hundred reporters, photographers and video camera operators
swarmed around the Wilmington cathedral as the hearing commenced.
But once Bishop Edward Jones of Indianapolis, president of the court,
opened the session, cameras were banished and the makeshift courtroom
was cleared of all but the 150 observers and accredited press. In an
atmosphere of dignity touched with occasional flashes of humor, the
opposing attorneys and the nine bishops proceeded to pick their way
through the thicket of Episcopal doctrine.
A TRIAL ABOUT DOCTRINE
"This case is about the doctrine of Christian marriage ...
and it is
about family values," said A. Hugo Blankingship, Jr., the retired
chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia who served as Church
attorney for those bringing the charges. "This case first and
about authority, it is about the authority of Holy Scripture and
the role it
will play in our church," he said in the opening statement of his
one-half hour presentation.
Blankingship said that the church has consistently upheld "the
traditional teaching of the church on marriage, marital fidelity, and
sexual chastity as the standard of sexual morality." And he argued
candidates for ordination "are expected to conform to this standard."
That is why "we believe it is not appropriate for this church to
practicing homosexual, or any person who is engaged in a heterosexual
relationship outside of marriage," he said, quoting a 1979 General
Convention resolution that is a major point of contention in the
Blankingship argued for a broad definition of the church's
doctrine, one that is supported by Scripture, the historic creeds
early church, and the Book of Common Prayer, but also including
resolutions and statements of the church's General Convention and the
House of Bishops.
He said that the trial was "a matter of last resort" by
saw the "seeds of anarchy" in the actions of bishops who act as "Lone
Rangers" in their dioceses, without regard for the opinion of the
the church. Stressing the importance of the trial for the future, he
warned, "History will judge how relevant the Episcopal Church was in
its hour of trial."
DOES DOCTRINE CHANGE?
Bishops on the court took an active role in questioning the
lawyers for both sides. "Suppose I agree that there is a doctrine of
marriage," Bishop Cabell Tennis of Delaware said, interrupting
Blankingship. "The question I'm struggling with is whether doctrine
fixed or whether it changes."
Tennis pointed out that the Episcopal Church has liberalized
own position on divorce and remarriage and he suggested that such an
action could be interpreted as a change in its doctrine.
The church has changed its policy and its discipline but not
doctrine, Blankingship responded. It still teaches that sexual
should be limited to life-long, monogamous marriage between a man and
"Scripture clearly says remarriage is adultery, so there
be a strong reinterpretation of those Scriptures," observed Bishop
Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles. He asked if all teaching by the
would be considered doctrine. "Insofar as those teachings incorporate
Scripture and are grounded in Scripture, then the answer would be
Jones suggested that there might be "different levels of
the church," different types of doctrine, some more important than
Who determines what is doctrine?" asked Bishop Arthur
Walmsley, retired bishop of Connecticut. "What is the authoritative
Blankingship said that doctrine can only be changed by the
itself and must stand the test of Scripture. He said that "very few"
resolutions of General Convention involve doctrine. Later he
a Church of England report that contended there was "evolving
convergence" and "ultimate biblical consensus" that sexual activity
outside of marriage was wrong and that homosexual behavior was
When asked about the 1979 resolution, Blankingship said, "This
court has to decide if this is an enforceable resolution." In the
of a Supreme Court, the General Convention becomes the arbiter of its
own decisions, he added, underscoring the assumption that the issue
be on the agenda for the 1997 General Convention in Philadelphia.
NARROW DEFINITION OF DOCTRINE
"Doctrine is the most overused and misunderstood word in our
church," asserted Michael Rehill, chancellor of the Diocese of
attorney for Righter. Arguing for a narrow definition of sources of
doctrine, what one judge called a "minimalist" approach, he
Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and the historic creeds. "Everything
else is a matter of discipline," he said.
"Doctrine deals with our relationship to God, discipline
our relationships with each other," Rehill argued. He called the
against Righter and the trial "curious and baffling." In fact, he
case trivializes doctrine. It says that doctrine is whatever the
Convention or the House of Bishops vote at a given meeting." That
would mean that doctrine could "change from meeting to meeting and
year to year," he said.
Rehill claimed that the 1979 resolution of General
"unenforceable because it doesn't say anything about enforcement,
because it is not a law, it is not prescriptive, it is advisory." He
contended that, if the church intended to prohibit the ordinations
celibate gays and lesbians, it could "do so easily by changing some
canons, if that were the will of the Episcopal Church." He pointed
that efforts to change the canons "have failed again, and again, and
again." And he said that the church had confessed that it was "not
single mind" in its understanding on the issue.
Walmsley asked pointedly where the middle ground was in the
church's attempt to find its mind on issues that clearly have
overtones or doctrinal basis but are not part of a doctrinal core
WHERE'S MIDDLE GROUND?
"Most of our church is in the middle, wrestling with these
of sexuality, Rehill responded. "That's the middle ground." But he
the court was not being asked to deal with all other sexuality
important as they might be, but only with ordination. And there is no
doctrine on the ordination issue, Rehill asserted. "It doesn't
can't find it anywhere.... I may not know what doctrine is, but I
this isn't doctrine."
According to Rehill, those who brought charges against Righter
did so because of "a sense of frustration that we haven't been able
ordinations which the presenters believe are contrary to the will
In a closing session, Tennis asked a hypothetical question.
court agrees that Righter is guilty, "would that mean that all
priests in this church who are living in committed relationships
be deposed--and that bishops who did not act to depose them would
themselves be guilty of violating the doctrine of the church?"
Blankingship, clearly uncomfortable with the implications of the
said that it was "essentially a diocesan problem and not a national
In suggesting possible middle ground, Blankingship said
determining what is "best for the church," the respondent, Righter,
should yield by admitting that the Episcopal Church "has a moral
doctrine by which we stand." And perhaps the presenters should
not seeking a harsh judgement against Righter.
Sally Johnson, chancellor of the Diocese of Minnesota and a
assessor for the court, said after the hearing that the canons seem
make it possible to appeal the decision of the court on doctrine.
On March 1 the court notified the two attorneys that it
them each to prepare a memorandum addressing the key issues: Do
actions of the church "constitute disciplinary authority, as
doctrine," that could lead to a presentment? And also, "With
attention to the issue of discipline, does the ordination of a
homosexual person constitute a violation of the ordaining bishop's
The court set a deadline of March 25 for the memoranda and
side can file a reply by April 9. No decision is expected until the
memoranda and replies have been received and discussed by members of
--JAMES SOLHEIM IS DIRECTOR OF NEWS AND INFORMATION
FOR THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH.
Louie Crew's "Is there a heretic in the House?
Copyright 1995 by Louie Crew, Po. O. Box 30, Newark, NJ 07101.
quote or publish, but only if you acknowledge properly. Send hard
of any print publication.
Send mail to: email@example.com
IS THERE A HERETIC IN THE HOUSE?
Many tell me that they are of the opinion that the trial is not about
homosexuality, but rather about doctrine and discipline.
I suspect many who who went to the Council of Jerusalem felt the same
way: This trial is not about circumcision; it is about doctrine and
discipline. But do note, please, that since the Council at
the Church has not been requiring circumcision or other kosher.
Bishop Ackerman seemed to make this same assesment when he and I
at Kanuga in September. Last March, also at Kanuga, he had told my
bishop, Jack Spong, that although he had been one of the 10 who
the presentment he was not going to consent to it. Bishop Ackerman
reneged without even telling my bishop; yet my bishop had taken
for supporting him when Bishop Ackerman almost came up short of the
needed for his consecration. In sending me to represent him at the
evangelism conference, my bishop asked me to tell Bishop Ackerman
was extremely disappointed that Bishop Ackerman had lied to him.
"Louie," Bishop Ackerman told me, "I fully meant what I said to
the spring, and I was wrong not to call and tell him that I had
mind. I signed the presentment only on the last day and only because
Bishop Benitez assured me that the presentment would be withdrawn at
Portland. Louie, I think I will never sign another presentment
ever, not about anything, even if I feel I ought. I feel very bad
When Bishop Salmon told the Commission on Human Affairs that the
not about homosexuality but about polity, I asked, "Then are you
that the Church is scape-goating lesbians and gays?" He replied,
Scape-goating is evil. If the trial is about the way that bishops do
business, surely we should begin by asking why they are doing the
business of taking a group already much beseiged on all sides and
as scapegoats for mere polity. I cannot think of another minority
on the planet that they would consider treating this cavalierly,
this case, they seem to see nothing wrong in doing so.
I hear absolutely no good news in the notion that the trial is not
about homosexuals: I hear only the world's message: this is the
group it's still safe to abuse.
The world which will watch the trial does not give a tinker's
about the polity of the Episcopal Church. The media which will
trial does not for a moment believe that this trial is primarily
polity and collegialty. If that were true, you would have only the
hard-core church press there to cover it. That will not be the
The press knows exactly why "the fine upstanding Episcopal Church,"
"church of presidents," the [fill in the blank with any of their
stereotypes about ECUSA] is willing to violate its own sense of
and make a public spectacle of itself.
I agree that most bishops would not say they're going for Walter or
even for lesbians and gays. It's never easy to admit whom you're
going for. It's always easier to ignore your victims and to say
you're doing this on the basis of some high-sounding principle.
The press will be at the heresy trial for the same reason it went
Scopes trial: An antequated notion of God is trying to deprive God's
people of the right to use their minds and hearts to attend to new
In backing the state and William Jennings Bryan in 1925, parts of the
church wrote themselves out of the lives of many of the best minds in
America. When Scopes lost, textbook makers would not publish
honest textbooks until Sputnik (1957); for the 32-year interval,
ghost hung like the shadow of the dark ages on the minds of
biochemists, physicians....... The parts of the church that backed
did more to undermine the church's influence in the community than
anything on the secular world's agenda could possibly have done.
If the church prefers rigor mortis, let it join those who cast the
76 stones. It won't help at all to say, "Oh but we love Walter and
and all our ....."
I'm not speculating. I speak from the trenches. We've been bringing
persons into this church by the thousands, and thousands more are
watching, most in utter amazement that a church with a strong
for rationality has even consented, here at the doorway to the 21st
century, to drop all other important matters and try a man for
Surely he must have done something horrendous and eggregious to
attention the same church would not give to Bishop Pike 30 years
Not so! The House has consented to the trial knowing full well
other bishops have done one or more of the "heretical" acts with
he is charged. One of the "proofs" that he's a heretic is that the
poor fellow just voted the wrong way! Seriously, that's one of the
pieces of evidence!
Every Episcopalian with half an i.q. point left ought to be
embarrassed. The vast majority of adult Episcopalians fled
where they had to hang their minds at the door, and now we are
a trial where such mindlessness is aired for all the world to see.
You may be surprised to know that, having said all that, I agree
who say that this trial is not about lesbians and gays as the media
proclaim. But I see it as not about polity and collegiality either.
This trial is about the love of God:
Millions have seen the preliminary network coverage of this trial
concluded, as many have rightly concluded before the lesbigay issue
along, that the Episcopal Church is less than honest when it
boldly everywhere, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you." Millions
have concluded the same thing about God!
Most who see the lie in the claim to welcome don't care any more
lesbigays than do the presenting bishops. But many, many of them
whether God loves them, or maybe even whether the Episcopal Church in
their community would welcome them, given their understanding of
weakness and their own unworthiness. The very fact that we are
trial has given far too many their answer.
It's not God's answer. It's not my answer. I know how much God
not just me, but my enemies as well. It's in knowing that God
enemies that I most discover that God has changed me, because
loved me, I could not have thought like that.
I believe that God calls lesbians and gays to love well this church
so egregiously abuses us that the whole world might know the only
news there is now or ever has been: God loves absolutely everybody
wants us in joy to love everybody too.
Lynda Bustilloz firstname.lastname@example.org
... And yesterday the planet seemed to be going so well..
* Origin: Xtians are uncomplicated beings: pure and simpleton.