In this month’s Editorial our attention is drawn to two letters from the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA (Episcopal Church of the United States of America) Frank Griswold to the Bishop of Pennsylvania, Charles Bennison regarding the latter’s policy of persecuting the orthodox. In the interests of a fully informed debate we print the full texts below
6th July 2001
After our telephone conversation I continued to reflect upon the issues you raised. I think that declaring the clergy who have refused to allow you to visit their congregations as having ‘abandoned the communion of this church’ is a drastic step that would have far reaching effects across the Communion. Most primates would be unsympathetic to your reasoning and would simply view you and the Standing Committee as heavy-handed, autocratic and monumentally unpastoral. Indeed, I think many of our brother and sister bishops (regardless of their points of view) and their chancellors as well, would seriously question such an action. I therefore ask you and the Standing Committee in the strong possible terms not to proceed in such a direction. Are there not other avenues of admonition or discipline that could be used instead?
With regard to the question of visitation, while indeed it is the prerogative of the bishop when he or she visits to preside at the liturgy and preach, there are other ways in which one can visit that do not require the exercise of sacramental ministry. My question here would be: are you seeking to find a way through this situation, or are you looking to prevail at all costs? Gerry Wolf, for example, goes to Evensong at one of her congregations and attends a reception following the service. This she sees as her visitation, while Keith Ackerman on another occasion, making it altogether plain that he is representing the Bishop of Rhode Island, performs the sacramental ministries.
On the matter of the blessing of a same-sex relationship, such an action cannot be construed as a formal action of the church. Our church is clearly not of a mind on this matter as was made plain at the General Convention in Denver with the passage of D039 which is descriptive rather than proscriptive. At best such a blessing must be looked upon as a form of pastoral care within the context of a particular congregation.
Shortly after talking to you I had a conversation with Laura Chasin and Bob Stains regarding the third of the international conversations on sexuality to take place this coming December. Toward the end of our time they mentioned their possible work in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and their concern about our being perceived as your agents rather than neutral facilitators whose only concern is to establish honest and trustful conversation between those of conflicting points of view. The perception on the part of those who disagree with you that unless they fall into line they will be threatened with canonical action works against the spirit in with Public Conversations does its work.
It is out of my respect and affection for you, and my concern for your own pastoral ministry and the health of your episcopate that I have put these matters before you in writing for your further thought and consideration.
This comes as always with my prayers and good wishes.
The Most Rev. Frank T Griswold Presiding Bishop
24th June 2002
Thank you for your letter following our conversation with our chancellors. Since then I have had a communication from the Archbishop of Canterbury, which included a proposed statement that he was about to release commenting on the impasse between you and the diocese and the Church of the Good Shepherd. I spoke to him by telephone and asked him to withhold his statement for the time being. He made it absolutely clear to me that he regards the situation as very serious in the life of the Communion. He also said that your stance serves to justify the actions of Rwanda and Singapore in the eyes of many around the Communion.
To be sure there are many conflicts and anomalies in our provinces but forces in our own church and on the other side of the Atlantic have managed to make the Pennsylvania affair the test case proving that those who hold traditional theological perspectives – particularly with regard to sexuality and the ordination of women – are being persecuted and essentially driven out of ECUSA. Moreover, these forces seek to prove to the world that ‘supplemental pastoral care’ – which our House of Bishops promised and which the Covenant of Texas delineated – are nothing more than empty words.
Whether or not these forces are fair or accurate in their expressed views about the impasse in your diocese, what we have before us is a serious international problem that demands some graceful solution. It is incumbent upon us who bear Episcopal responsibility to go out of our way to take a step forward that can be perceived as honoring the diverse perspectives and sensibilities that constitutes out Anglican reality.
Given all of the above circumstances, I am not in a position to take ‘no’ for an answer. I stand by the recommendations I made when you were here on May 29. You must find a way to visit the Church of the Good shepherd that, at the outset, does not require that you preach or celebrate the Eucharist, but that offer committed Episcopalians in that place caring pastoral oversight on your part, as well as your commitment to send them another bishop for ‘supplemental pastoral care’. I ask that you send me within the next ten days a proposal of what such a visit would look like. I am prepared to take this to the Church of the Good Shepherd and see what might be negotiated. Perhaps our chancellors might be of assistance here.
Failing this next step toward resolution on your part, I will have no recourse but to make a public statement in which, sadly, I shall not be able to defend your action and position on this matter.
I deeply regret having to write this letter as I have respect and affection for you but I do not wish to see either you or ECUSA portrayed as unyielding and insensitive.
Yours in Christ,
Frank T Griswold
Return to Home Page of This Issue
Return to Trushare Home Page