By William Murchison
March 2, 2002
PHILADELPHIA -- Months of heated ecclesiastical sparring climaxed March 1 as Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Jr., ordered a leading traditionalist rector to cease functioning in his parish for six months.
Bennison accused the Rev. Dr. David L. Moyer, rector of Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, of having renounced the Discipline of the Church through, among other actions, denying him the right to preach and celebrate the Eucharist at the parish.
Moyer, who is also president of the church's largest traditionalist organization, Forward in Faith/North America, is to step down from all parish responsibilities beginning Monday, March 4. Under church canons, he faces formal deposition from the Episcopal priesthood at the end of the period
Moyer called Bennison's action - formally known as inhibition of ministry - "a very unfortunate and unnecessary act of aggression against someone who is faithfully committed to upholding the Gospel and the catholic religion." He said he was "consulting with a number of trusted individuals, both clergy and lay, in an attempt to discern the proper course of action."
Inhibition commonly is levied against priests who already have left the Episcopal Church. Moyer, 51, called himself probably the first Episcopal priest to remain in the church and still undergo inhibition.
Bennison, who strongly backs the gay rights agenda and has affirmed the church's right to "change" Scripture, has long been at odds with Moyer and the historic parish in the Mainline suburb of Rosemont. The bishop, insistent on asserting his authority over the parish by presiding at worship there, met over several years with reputed refusals by Moyer and his vestry to allow such visits.
Bennison likewise objects to Moyer's nomination to become bishop of a U.S. Anglican presence unaligned with the Episcopal Church. Forward in Faith/North America (FIF/NA) at a meeting in August may ask an overseas Anglican primate to consecrate an American priest who would serve American traditionalists under that primate's supervision rather than inside official Episcopal Church structures. Moyer is among several Episcopal priests nominated for the responsibility.
The diocesan standing committee, which met with Moyer Feb. 26 in a session it called "candid and respectful," advised Bennison by letter that Moyer's actions, "continuing over an extended period and demonstrating increasing level of confrontation with the bishops of this diocese constitute an 'open renunciation of the.Discipline.of this Church'" within the meaning of church canons.
The committee cited Moyer for disobeying orders to permit a Bennison visit, for failing to present Good Shepherd communicants for confirmation by Bennison, and for "willingly participating in an election process that clearly violates the Canons and Constitution of the Episcopal Church.
The committee's report takes swipes at traditionalists, whom it accuses of "willingness to disengage themselves" from the diocese while continuing - like Moyer and Good Shepherd - to call themselves Episcopalians.
The report makes plain that the standing committee sees obedience to the canons as a larger matter than theological "debate and disagreement." Neither Bennison nor the standing committee addresses Moyer's and Good Shepherd's theological point, which is that, believing and teaching as he does, Bennison at many points steps outside the historic Christian faith.
Bennison has refused Good Shepherd's repeated requests for oversight by a bishop other than Bennison. The bishop says he would allow such a plan only if Good Shepherd agreed to have him also as a visitor. Such a scheme, the parish believes, would overthrow the whole purpose of substituting a faithful bishop for one - i.e., Bennison - deemed to espouse false teaching.
Anglican primates recently urged the Episcopal Church to provide some such plan as Good Shepherd and other traditional parishes have desired. Bennison, in a late February meeting with the Good Shepherd vestry, said bluntly, "The primates are wrong."