News analysis by Kirk Petersen
A decision by Albany Bishop William H. Love to reject a compromise on same-sex marriage reached at the 79th General Convention has placed Love and the diocese under a spotlight that might soon become a microscope.
|Afternoon update, 11/14: Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano of Long Island, who was instrumental in negotiating the compromise at General Convention, told TLC by email: “I know that in his heart, Bill Love would never do anything or say anything to directly harm an individual. He is a gentle, kind man. His decision regarding B012 is breaking my heart. I truly believe it is the responsibility and duty of the diocesan bishop to interpret and pastorally implement the decisions of General Convention in the context of a particular local church.”|
Battle lines are being drawn for what may become disciplinary action against Love, who in a pastoral letter to the diocese declared “the trial rites authorized by Resolution B012 of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church shall not be used anywhere in the Diocese of Albany.”
In response, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a statement, “Along with other leaders in the Episcopal Church, I am assessing the implications of [Bishop Love’s] statement and will make determinations about appropriate actions soon.”
Going into the July convention in Austin, bishops of 93 U.S. dioceses supported same-sex marriage rites that were initially approved on a trial basis at the 2015 General Convention. The 2015 resolution said the rites could only be used with the approval of the diocesan bishop. The Diocese of Albany was one of eight dioceses in which approval was not subsequently granted. Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in eight others.
The 2018 resolution curtailed that veto power, declaring that conservative bishops must find an amenable bishop to guide a congregation desiring to perform a same-sex wedding. This path, conceptually similar to Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO), could allow bishops to affirm traditional teachings on marriage within their dioceses without preventing congregations from seeking an alternative arrangement. Same-sex marriage liturgies — where permitted under civil law, approved by a rector, and supported by parish leadership — were thus made available to the whole church.
“To their credit,” said the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, a longtime LGBT activist, the other seven bishops have all developed ways “to make marriage available, in some way, to the same-sex couples in their dioceses. And Bishop Love has drawn a line in the sand.”
For example, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins told the Diocese of Springfield a few days after General Convention that although he remains opposed to same-sex marriage, he will ask another bishop to provide temporary spiritual and pastoral oversight to any congregation seeking to conduct a same-sex wedding.
In his eight-page letter to the Diocese of Albany, Love quoted from the ordination declaration made by all bishops, priests, and deacons: “I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.” Love then cited multiple passages from Scripture in support of his position against same-sex marriage.
There is a second clause in the ordination declaration that Love did not quote: “I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church.” Curry’s response pointedly borrowed that language: “In all matters, those of us who have taken vows to obey the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church must act in ways that reflect and uphold the discernment and decisions of the General Convention of the Church.”
Whether conformity requires obedience may be a matter for a hearing panel.
The 2018 resolution does not take effect until the first Sunday of Advent, which is December 2, so there may not yet be any party with proper standing to make a complaint against Love under Title IV of the church’s canons, which deals with ecclesiastical discipline.
Under Title IV.4(1)(h)(2), members of the clergy, including bishops, are required to refrain from “holding and teaching publicly or privately, and advisedly, any Doctrine contrary to that held by the Church.”
As seen in the case of Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, it can take years for a formal complaint against a bishop to make its way through the convoluted steps of Title IV. However, Title IV.7(3) also gives the presiding bishop broad powers to take action against a bishop “without prior notice or hearing” if the bishop “may have committed any Offense, or that the good order, welfare or safety of the Church or any person or Community may be threatened” by that bishop. The presiding bishop can place restrictions on the bishop’s exercise of ministry, or order the bishop into administrative leave.
Curry cited this section of the Canons on Aug. 1, 2017, when he stripped Bruno of any authority over St. James of Newport Beach for actions Bruno took during the Title IV proceedings against him.
It may not take long for a catalyzing case to emerge. Albany is a conservative diocese, and Love’s stance against same-sex marriage reportedly enjoys substantial support among the clergy. There are, however, pockets of resistance.
At St. Andrew’s in Albany, parishioners burned a copy of Love’s letter outside the front door of the church on Sunday, Nov. 11. The rector, the Rev. Mary Robinson White, said by email, “The congregation of St. Andrew’s felt anger and frustration at the contents of Bishops Love’s pastoral letter and directive.”
Her husband, John White, told TLC that St. Andrew’s has been operating under a DEPO relationship with the neighboring Diocese of Central New York, under which Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of Central New York provides pastoral oversight to the church.
“The House of Bishops devised DEPO in 2004 for congregations that so severely disagree with their diocesan bishops on matter of human sexuality and other theological matters that their relationship is completely broken,” according to Episcopal News Service.
At St. George’s in Schenectady, the Rev. Mathew Stromberg told his parish in a September newsletter that he hoped Love would accept the will of the General Convention despite the bishop’s profound disagreement. “Failure to do so could lead to serious consequences for our diocese. … Please pray for discernment for our bishop, that he will make the right decision.”
“I would have liked to see him follow the lead of the other seven conservative bishops,” Stromberg said after the bishop’s announcement. Stromberg said he has “a lot of regard for him personally,” and would not act in defiance of Love’s instructions.
One priest in the diocese told TLC he “intends not to abide by” Love’s directive and will celebrate a same-sex marriage if the opportunity arises.
The Rev. Glen Michaels is an assistant attorney general for New York State. He serves as priest in charge of All Souls Memorial Chapel in St. Hubert’s in the Adirondacks, about 100 miles north of Albany. All Souls is open only in the summer, and Michaels said it frequently serves as a wedding venue.
Michaels said that as he reads the canons, Love’s prohibition of same-sex marriage is “not enforceable” because of the action of the General Convention.
“For better or worse I see myself as a good person to challenge this,” he said, because his livelihood does not depend on his work as a priest.