Wednesday, March 06, 2002


By William Murchison

A leading traditionalist rector inhibited by his liberal bishop says the bishop can settle the controversy by affirming key articles of the Christian faith.
Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Jr., last weekend ordered the Rev. David L. Moyer to stand down from his priestly duties for six months. Due to Bishop Bennison's theological positions, Fr. Moyer and his historic Anglo-Catholic parish, Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, have repeatedly refused the bishop's demands for an official visit to the parish.
In a letter to the bishop Tuesday, Fr. Moyer contested the order barring him from the exercise of his duties and invited the bishop to "clarify" any theological misunderstandings between them by publicly affirming Jesus Christ's uniqueness and bodily Resurrection, the unacceptability of sex outside heterosexual marriage, and the Holy Scriptures as God's inspired Word.
"To bring us to the point of reconciliation," Fr. Moyer's letter said, "I respectfully ask that you publicly affirm these tenets of the Christian faith promptly, and certainly before Holy Week. Upon your public affirmations I would see myself in a position to welcome you to the Church of the Good Shepherd for a full episcopal visitation."
"You remain in my daily prayers," Fr. Moyer concluded, "and in the prayers of the people of Good Shepherd."
Fr. Moyer, besides serving as Good Shepherd's rector since 1989, is president of the Episcopal Church's largest traditionalist organization, Forward in Faith/North America."
Bishop Bennison, in various public statements, has taken positions many see as contradicting moral and theological doctrines central to Christianity, as in the bishop's assertion that "Because we [the Church] wrote the Bible, we can rewrite it." The bishop likewise has argued that "[W]e should approve gay and lesbian marriage."
Fr. Moyer's letter outlines the traditional understanding in these controversies with citations from the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and Anglicanism's almost 500-year-old Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
Fr. Moyer denied having abandoned the Episcopal Church, as alleged in the order of inhibition, which he said was based on a finding by the diocesan standing committee. "It is precisely," Fr. Moyer said, "my grave concern for and loyalty to the Communion of the Church that undergirds my continuing and consistent actions as a priest."
Inhibition, an unusual action, is designed for use against priests who have renounced the Episcopal Church and is rarely if ever contested. Fr. Moyer considers himself an Episcopal priest and 137-year-old Good Shepherd an Episcopal parish despite their deep differences with the bishop over theology.
Fr. Moyer, rector since 1989, said he had chosen "at this take an in-house retreat to be concentrated in prayer and discernment, and not formally engaging in priestly duties." During the period priestly duties at Good Shepherd will be handled by two staff priests and a deacon.
Meanwhile Fr. Moyer's attorney, John H. Lewis, Jr., in a letter to the Pennsylvania diocese's chief attorney, staked out his client's legal position, calling the inhibition order "invalid, illegal, unjust, and unchristian."
"The plain truth," Lewis wrote Chancellor William C. Bullitt, "is that Fr. Moyer has not abandoned the Communion of the Church. Bishop Bennison and the Standing Committee knew (or should have known) that to be true. In their apparent desire to find a way to remove Fr. Moyer from the priesthood and, at the same time, to deny him any rights to contest that action, they have distorted a Canon of the Church that was never intended to deal with a priest who is attempting to be faithful to the doctrine of the Church."
"It is Bishop Bennison," Lewis charged, "who has rejected creed and doctrine while trying to enforce 'discipline.'"
Fr. Moyer also received strong support from Church of England traditionalists. The head of the English Forward in Faith organization, the Rev. Geoffrey Kirk, asked Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold III "to act upon your own admonitions" concerning "inclusiveness and gracious conversation." Fr. Kirk said Forward in Faith was "amazed and horrified" by Bishop Bennison's order. In a separate communication he appealed to Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey for intervention in the widening fray.

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