By Kirk Petersen

The Hearing Panel that found the Bishop of Albany guilty of violating his vows made two errors of fact in publishing their decision, according to two bishops who co-sponsored Resolution B012, the 2018 General Convention resolution that mandated the availability of same-sex marriage rites in every diocese where such marriages are legal.

The Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island, and the Rt. Rev. Dorsey McConnell, Bishop of Pittsburgh, state in an open letter on their websites that the Hearing Panel erred in saying that Resolution B012 “was properly constituted and passed as an authorized revision to the BCP” (Book of Common Prayer).

In fact, “B012 did not revise the Prayer Book.  B012 merely set the terms for the trial use of the liturgies in question,” the bishops wrote.

That statement is consistent with TLC‘s on-the-scene reporting from the 2018 General Convention.  Efforts to add same-sex marriage rites to the prayer book met with strong opposition, particularly in the House of Bishops, and Resolution B012 was introduced as a compromise.

The idea that same-sex marriage rites had been written into the prayer book caused considerable consternation on social media and elsewhere when the Hearing Panel issued its decision on October 5. Bishop of Albany William H. Love singled out that statement in a letter to his diocese that day, saying he disagreed with the decision, “particularly their argument that B012 was passed as an authorized revision to the Book of Common Prayer.”

“The second error is a bit more subtle,” the bishops wrote. “The panel states that B012 requires Rectors or Clergy in charge to make provision for same-sex couples, where civil law allows, to use the liturgies in their local congregation or worshipping community.” They point out that the actual text of the resolution is slightly different, and that it goes on to say “provided that nothing in this Resolve narrows the authority of the Rector or Priest-in-Charge (Canon III.9.6(a)).”

The cited canon 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.” As the bishops put it in their letter, “General Convention was not abrogating the final authority of rectors to decide what liturgies could or could not take place within their churches.”

In other words, bishops may not bar the use of the liturgies in an entire diocese, but the rector of a particular church may bar the use there. All parties to the debate have long since agreed that any priest may decline to take part in any wedding ceremony for any reason.

“We believe these to be honest mistakes,” the bishops wrote. “The case was complex and the burden on the panel enormous.”

It is unclear what effect, if any, the bishops’ letter might have on the status of Bishop Love, who has agreed to resign as of February 1, after taking a terminal sabbatical beginning January 1. The Hearing Panel’s 42-page decision repeatedly cites the mistaken assertion that General Convention had approved same-sex marriages as a revision to the prayer book. The decision also notes that regardless of the prayer book issue, Bishop Love “acknowledges the stated intent of Resolution B012 ‘to mak[e] liturgies for same-sex marriages available for use in every Diocese and parish of the Episcopal Church,’” and that he knew that when he forbid their use.

In their letter, Bishops McConnell and Provenzano said “it is clear to us that the panel reached an appropriate decision.”