By Kirk Petersen

In the ecclesiastical trial of the Rt. Rev. William Love, the prosecution and defense agree about much more than they disagree.

Bishop William H. Love

Love, the Bishop of Albany, is the only domestic bishop who forbids clergy in his diocese to perform marriages of same-sex couples. He acknowledges that the intention of Resolution B012 of the 2018 General Convention was to allow such marriages in every diocese. He acknowledges that after the convention, he issued a “pastoral directive” to his clergy prohibiting such marriages in the Diocese of Albany.

That’s the short version of the material facts that have been stipulated by both sides. (The long version runs to dozens of pages of legal briefs.) So instead of seeking to determine who did what and when, a Hearing Panel of three bishops, a priest and a lay person spent three and a half hours on June 12 listening to online arguments about whether Love’s actions violate the “doctrine, discipline, and worship” of the Episcopal Church.

Love’s career is at stake. The Hearing Panel has the power (subject to conditions and appeals) to “depose” Love – to take away not just his miter and crozier, but his clerical collar as well. The panel also has broad authority to impose lesser sanctions on Love, or to acquit him.

The June 12 hearing was part of “a Title IV proceeding,” referring to Title IV of the Canons of the Episcopal Church, on “Ecclesiastical Discipline.” It strongly resembled a secular court trial, except it was conducted online and began with a series of prayers for guidance.

The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether to accept either party’s “motion for summary judgment” – a term that does not appear in Title IV. The Hearing Panel has broad authority to determine its own procedures, and all parties agreed that a set of facts would be stipulated, and no witnesses would be called.

Despite the agreement to forego witnesses, Love did end up essentially testifying briefly on his own behalf.

Love’s counsel, Chip Strickland, who also serves as chancellor of the diocese, was asked if Love had taken “any pastoral action to address the pain” of same-sex couples in his diocese who could not be married in their own church. Strickland noted that the issue was not included in the stipulation, and asked if Love could answer on his own behalf. After a brief discussion, Love was invited to turn on his microphone.

He spoke for about four minutes, saying that he loves and respects everyone in the diocese, even those who disagree with him. “I have consistently, throughout this long ordeal, met with same-sex couples, same-sex individuals, and spoken to them personally,” he said and has tried to make it clear “that the issue at hand was not their sexual orientation, the issue at hand was a particular behavior. In particular, where is it appropriate for sexual intimacy to be exercised?” He added, “that has been reserved by God to be carried out within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The hearing ended without any announcement about a verdict. Bishop W. Nicholas Knisley, the president of the panel, said “we will begin our deliberations this afternoon, and we may be in further communications with you all.” The Hearing Panel itself determines how long the deliberations last.

Title IV proceedings generally are intended to be confidential and involve a series of steps aimed at reaching agreement between parties in a dispute. Privacy goes away if the dispute reaches the Hearing Panel stage, which by canon is open to the public. The June 12 hearing was streamed in real time on Facebook Live, and at times there were more than 700 silent observers, in addition to the 11 people whose faces were on the screen throughout the hearing.

If you’re keeping score at home, the participants were:

  • William Love, Bishop of Albany
  • Members of the Hearing Panel (effectively the judges):
    • Jennifer Brooke-Davidson, Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Virginia.
    • Herman (Holly) Hollerith IV, retired Bishop of Southern Virginia
    • Nicholas Knisley, Bishop of Rhode Island and president of the Hearing Panel
    • Erik Larsen, a priest in the Diocese of Rhode Island
    • Melissa Perrin, a layperson in the Diocese of Chicago
  • Paul Cooney, church attorney (effectively the prosecutor)
  • William “Chip” Strickland, Jr., chancellor of the Diocese of Albany, serving as counsel for Bishop Love
  • Diane Sammons, chancellor of the Diocese of Newark, serving as counsel to the Hearing Panel
  • Liz Crawley, administrative assistant in the Diocese of Rhode Island, supporting the Hearing Panel
  • Jody Lambert, stenographer

Bishop Love is fighting a lonely battle.

Before the 2018 General Convention, there were seven other domestic diocesan bishops who were exercising veto power over same-sex marriages in their dioceses, as provided in the 2015 resolution authorized such marriages. Same-sex marriage was allowed in the other 93 dioceses.

Bishops play a role in individual marriages because if one or both members of the couple have been divorced, they cannot marry within the Episcopal Church without the approval of the bishop. Approval is usually granted.

After 2018, the other seven bishops accepted defeat and agreed to invite a bishop from another jurisdiction to oversee same-sex marriages within the seven dioceses. “We’re not asking this panel to overturn B-012,” Strickland said. “From a practical perspective, B-012 has been a success. Seven of the eight dissenting bishops have embraced it and used it, and that’s their prerogative. We’re simply suggesting that it was never intended as a proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer, and therefore it does not have canonical status.”

The archived video of the June 12 hearing is available on Facebook.