By: Lynda Bustilloz
Re: Spong on the Heresy Trial
Bishop Spong Speaks About the Heresy Trial
By The Rt. Rev. John S. Spong, Bishop of Newark.
As the Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, I pledge my full support to the Rt.
Rev. Walter Righter, former assistant bishop of Newark. I reject the
politically motivated charges of the religious right within the Episcopal
Church and expect to see Bishop Righter fully exonerated. The public needs
to be informed about a number of factors in this strange episode in church
history. First, the ordination of the Rev. Barry Stopfel was carried out
according to the letter of the Canons of the Episcopal Church. Mr. Stopfel
had the support of the vestry of the Church of the Atonement, Tenafly, New
Jersey. He had the full endorsement of the Commission on Ministry. He was
approved unanimously by the Standing Committee of the diocese. His
ordination to the diaconate by Bishop Righter and his ordination to the
priesthood by me were both carried out in consulation with the highest
authorities in our national church structure. If Bishop Righter or the
authorities of this diocese acted inappropriately in this matter, we did so
by following the canons and with the advice of our national church leaders.
If this presentment ever gets to trial, that detail will be fleshed out with
Secondly, the Episcopal Church has never written into its canon law a
prohibition against the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates who meet
all other standards. The last refusal to do that was at the General
Convention of 1991. This attempt was defeated by roll call vote in the
House of Bishops, so every vote was recorded by name and is available today.
The conservative minority of our church is now trying to win by judicial
process what it could not win then by legislative process. That is both
dishonest and lacking in integrity.
Thirdly, General Convention resolutions do not have the force of canon law.
They are the expressions of the mind of this church to guide our common life,
but they have always respected dissent. This church has passed resolutions
on abortion, on various boycotts, on foreign policy issues and on a wide
variety of other public matters. The suggestion that some bishop or priest
who disagrees with the majority sentiment at a general convention might be
subject to presentment is ludicrous. There is not a bishop living who has
not dissented to some resolution of General Convention at one time or another.
Only the canons are mandatory and thus required to be obeyed. Only the canons
have the power to bind our corporate life.
In addition to that fact, the only General Convention resolution to which
the presentment refers, and which they claim prohibits the ordination of
homosexual persons, was passed in 1979 and it was specifically called a
"recommendation." The day after that vote, 21 bishops issued a public
statement noting that this resolution "was recommendatory and not
proscriptive" and these bishops announced their inability in conscience to
be bound by that resolution. Among those 21 signatories were the Rt. Rev.
Edmond Browning, who five years later was elected Presiding Bishop and the
Rt. Rev. John Walker who was shortly thereafter elected Vice President of
the House of Bishops. If Bishop Righter's action is judged by some to be so
deep a violation of the Church's teaching, it is hard to imagine that we
would have elected two persons who shared his point of view to the highest
leadership positions within our Church. That illustrates better than
anything else I can cite the negativity and the harassing quality of this
ecclesiastical version of "ethnic cleansing" that has now been undertaken
by the religious right wing of the Episcopal Church.
The public also needs to be aware that 75 bishops, or 25% of the total
membership of the House of Bishops, had to agree to this presentment in
order for it to proceed to trial. This right-wing coalition managed to
muster 76 votes, one more than the required number, and then only after
an intense last-minute lobbying effort. In order to reach their total,
they garnered the votes of 44 retired bishops, many of whom have not
attended meetings or participated in the debate of the House of Bishops for
more than a decade and in some cases two decades. Their signatories even
included one bishop who is suffering with Alzheimer's disease and who was
not capable of signing for himself. Two of their signatories were members
of the Bishop's Court that will hear this case and thus had to sacrifice
themselves as judges in order for this presentment to reach the necessary
25%. When the facts in the case are revealed, I predict a quick dismissal of
these charges and a recognition by the vast majority of our Church that
this procedure was nothing more than an unsuccessful attempt at
Finally, I note that four of the ten bishops who filed the original
presentment have themselves refused to implement the canons which opened
the ordination process of our Church to women. They are, therefore at this
moment, in violation of the canons, something even they have never accused
Bishop Righter of being. This tactic against Bishop Righter is their attempt
to postpone the day on which they will be called to accountability.
I am saddened that our Church has come to this. I am saddened that gay and
lesbian members of this church are subjected to this continuing abuse. My
conviction is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which proclaims the message
of God's unbounded love for all that God has made, including God's gay and
lesbian children, is worth defending with all my might and defend that Gospel
I will. I am also convinced that I do so with the support of the vast majority
of the clergy and lay leadership of this Diocese.
Lynda Bustilloz firstname.lastname@example.org
... Every tradition was once a heresy.
* Origin: Xtians are uncomplicated beings: pure and simpleton. (1:109/601)