Conservative bishops defy ECUSA by holding confirmation

On Sunday 14 March 2004 six conservative bishops took part in a confirmation service in an Eastern Orthodox church in suburban Akron in the Diocese of Ohio. About 800 churchgoers from six congregations took part in the service which was performed without the permission of Bishop J. Clark Grew II of Cleveland, who had voted in favour of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The six parishes claimed that their relationship with the Bishop of Ohio was ‘impaired’ because of his support for the consecration of bishop Gene. The American Anglican Council, a conservative group, played a role in organizing the confirmation.

The service was conducted by five retired Episcopal bishops, the Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired bishop of Texas, C. FitzSimmons Allison, retired bishop of South Carolina; William Cox, retired assistant bishop of Oklahoma; Alex Dickson, retired bishop of west Tennessee; William Wantland, retired bishop of Eau Claire, Wisconsin; and the Rev. Robinson Cavalcanti, bishop of northern Brazil. The presence of bishop Cavalcanti demonstrated the willingness of bishops in the Anglican Communion opposed to the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the church to disobey church law and conventions. Cavalcanti said, “We are here to say we support the efforts of the faithful Episcopal Americans, we are not attacking anybody. We are defending the faith.”

Bishop Benitez said in a prepared statement: “We come as pastors who care very much about you, the clergy and lay members of the six congregations gathered here today. We come because the lay persons among you have asked us to come. We come knowing well your predicament in feeling estranged from your bishop, your diocese and the Episcopal Church.”

Daniel England, a church spokesperson, said. “This business against the diocesan bishop is simply defiant and that’s why it’s troubling. It violates our constitution and canons.” The Primates’ meeting in London in October stated that bishops must respect the autonomy of each other’s dioceses, and warned against events like the confirmation. The meeting also called upon the Episcopal Church to “make adequate provision for Episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities.” In response, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, and his advisers proposed what they called “supplemental Episcopal pastoral care.” Conservatives found the plan unacceptable because the diocesan bishop would retain power to approve visiting bishops. If the diocesan bishop refused, a parish could appeal to other bishops, but conservatives said the process would remain in hostile hands and there would be no guarantee parishes would get what they want.

Conservatives in the Episcopal Church of the USA are now planning more such incursions onto the territory of liberal diocesan bishops in the coming months as clusters of parishes are getting together to defy their bishops. A statement from the American Anglican Council said senior and retired bishops will continue to conduct ‘emergency measures’ around the United States. “Church leaders anticipate such assistance to be extended to numerous congregations around the country that are experiencing intimidation and harassment,” they said.

Join the discussion