By Kirk Petersen

The Albany Standing Committee and the Communion Partners issued letters supporting Bishop Love

A Hearing Panel has unanimously ruled that the only remaining American bishop who has refused to permit same-sex marriage rites in his diocese thereby violated his vow to “engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.”

Another public hearing — tentatively scheduled for late October — will be held to consider what discipline will be imposed on the Rt. Rev. William Love, the IX Bishop of Albany since 2007. The maximum penalty is “deposition,” the term the Church uses for what used to be known as defrocking. Under Title IV of the canons, the panel also has broad authority to impose lesser penalties as it sees fit.

“Whatever the final outcome, it will severely impact not only me and the ministry entrusted to me as Bishop of Albany, but it will also seriously impact the life and ministry of the Diocese,” Love wrote in a letter to the diocese.”I continue to pray that somehow God will use all of this for His purposes.”

The Hearing Panel issued a 42-page decision in support of its decision. This followed a three-hour online public hearing on June 12, in which both Love and the church attorney (effectively the prosecutor) stipulated some basic facts.

Bishop William H. Love

The parties acknowledged that when it approved Resolution B012, the General Convention intended that Episcopal marriage rites must be made available to same-sex couples wherever such marriages are legal — meaning throughout the United States. (The Church has dioceses outside the country where same-sex marriages are forbidden.)

They also acknowledged that after the General Convention, Love issued a “pastoral directive” to his clergy prohibiting such marriages in the Diocese of Albany. “My ultimate loyalty as a bishop in God’s Holy Church is to God,” he said at the time.

Love contended in the public hearing and in legal briefs that his actions did not formally constitute a violation for a number of reasons, including that the resolution “was not a properly constituted revision to the Book of Common Prayer,” and the BCP holds that marriage is an event in which “the man and a woman enter into a life-long union.”

The decision touched off a debate on private Facebook groups and elsewhere regarding the panel’s finding that “Resolution B012 was properly constituted and passed as an authorized revision to the BCP as expressly provided for in Constitution Article X (b).” That sentence at least arguably is in conflict with the understanding of B012 at the time it was passed.

BCP revision was a hot-button issue at the 2018 General Convention, and the House of Bishops effectively killed a resolution that would have provided for comprehensive prayer book revision. B012 states “the period of trial use for these [same-sex marriage] liturgies shall extend until the completion of the next comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer.”

As TLC reported on July 23, 2018,

LGBT people and their allies ensured that same-sex marriage rites will be available in every diocese where such marriages are allowed by civil law. They were unsuccessful in adding the rites to the Book of Common Prayer, which left some complaining on social media about being “second-class citizens.”

Conservatives were horrified by the idea of enshrining the rites in the prayer book. Bishop Daniel Martins of Springfield has said that including same-sex marriage rites in the prayer book would cross the line from erroneous practice to heresy. The rites will be considered in deliberations about prayer book revision, but any such revision has been taken off the fast track.

In his letter to the Diocese of Albany, Love said he “strongly disagreed” with the Hearing Panel’s decision, “particularly their argument that B012 was passed as an authorized revision to the Book of Common Prayer,”

The Hearing Panel also held that there is no conflict between the liturgies and the Book of Common Prayer’s catechism, which says that in a marriage, “the man and a woman enter into a life-long union.” The panel wrote that “the Rubrics to the Catechism make plain it is merely ‘an outline for instruction’ and is ‘not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice.'”

The 2015 General Convention was the first to authorize same-sex marriages within the Church, with the approval of the diocesan bishop. An overwhelming majority of bishops quickly approved the use of the rites, but Love was one of eight who did not.

The 2018 General Convention put an end to the bishop’s veto, and the other dissenting bishops made arrangements under the terms of Resolution B012 to have a bishop from outside the diocese oversee such marriages.

Canon I.19 of the Church gives diocesan bishops a limited degree of authority over whether an individual wedding may be solemnized in an Episcopal ceremony in the diocese. The bishop’s consent is required if either of the parties has divorced or had a previous marriage annulled.

The Hearing Panel made clear that any member of the clergy may continue to decline to participate in a marriage ceremony for any reason. “That right remains resolute,” the panel wrote in its introduction.

The decision did not explicitly deal with the issue of whether a rector or priest in charge retains the right to forbid such ceremonies in church buildings under his or her control. The decision did, however, cite Resolve 7 of B012, which declares that “provision will be made for all couples desiring to use these marriage liturgies in their local congregation or worshipping community, provided that nothing in this Resolve narrows the authority of the Rector or Priest-in-Charge (Canon III.9.6(a)).”

The canon cited reads in part: “the Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall at all times be entitled to the use and control of the Church and Parish buildings together with all appurtenances and furniture, and to access to all records and registers maintained by or on behalf of the congregation.”