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Priest's visit underscores rift in Episcopal Church

Bishop welcomes him here, ignores state leader's ouster

Saturday, September 07, 2002

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

An Episcopal priest who was deposed earlier this week by one diocese in the state was welcomed here yesterday by Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, who said the visit illuminated the denomination's ongoing struggle for "the soul of the Episcopal Church."

The Rev. David L. Moyer, foreground, embraces Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh after a news conference yesterday on the steps of Trinity Cathedral, Downtown. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette)

The Rev. David L. Moyer was stripped of his ministry Wednesday by Bishop Charles Bennison of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, following a six-month "inhibition," or suspension, for "open renunciation of the ... Discipline ... of this Church."

Bennison said the action resulted from several years of Moyer's failing to honor requests to schedule the formal visitations of diocesan bishops as required by canon law, and for not allowing the bishop to preach or preside at communion or confirmation in the church.

Moyer, for 13 years rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Montgomery County, has claimed that Bennison is too liberal, especially because of his support for ordination of women and same-sex unions.

Yesterday, after celebrating the Eucharist at Trinity Cathedral, Moyer said in a prepared statement that Bennison "has refused to publicly affirm basic Christian teachings, and has removed himself from the Church through public pronouncements and teachings that are apostate and heretical."

Duncan said he visited Bennison in Philadelphia in June in an effort to persuade him not to depose Moyer. The issue is one of "inclusivity," Duncan said, not politics.

"This church is disintegrating right before our eyes because the bishops refuse to talk about the problem," he said. Moyer "represents what Episcopalians believed just 30 years ago. I'm sure [the issue is] not about putting out those who believe what the church has always believed."

Duncan's biggest concern was Bennison's unilateral action in deposing Moyer, which he called "utterly null and void, both legally and morally." He said actions such as Bennison's should be limited by the Episcopal Church and he plans to have the issue debated at the meeting of the church's 294-member House of Bishops in Cleveland later this month.

"Father David Moyer was 'deposed' without trial," Duncan said from a prepared statement. "For one who desires to remain a priest in the Episcopal Church, such an action is without precedent in the history of our nation and our Church.

"Limiting the power of bishops, the right to due process, the soul of the Episcopal Church and the present reformation of the Christian church are each aspects of why we are here."

Although Duncan supports the ordination of women as priests, both he and Moyer believe that the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church has strayed from its traditional roots.

In the church structure, priests who have been suspended or deposed can be approved by another province as priests in good standing. Last month, while still suspended, Moyer received such approval from the House of Bishops of the Province of Central Africa. That cleared the way for Duncan to invite him to Pittsburgh to participate in yesterday's services. Duncan also has offered Moyer a position as priest associate of Grace Church, Mount Washington.

About two dozen U.S. bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, spiritual head of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion that includes the Episcopal Church, have refused to acknowledge the validity of Moyer's suspension or deposition.

The Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, had urged Bennison and Moyer to enter mediation. Moyer has filed suit to have his deposition set aside.

Griswold issued a statement yesterday that the issue was not a conflict about "traditionalist" views within the denomination.

"I cannot say strongly enough that this is not the case," Griswold's statement said. "To my mind the difficulties between the parties are at heart pastoral, and therefore resolution could have been found without recourse to canons and rubrics."

The Pittsburgh chapter of the Episcopal Women's Caucus issued a statement yesterday expressing "concern" over Moyer's arrival in Pittsburgh, saying it "may be further divisive and harmful to the life of this diocese as well as disruptive to the Episcopal Church.

"We are deeply saddened by the rifts this will cause and pray for some better solution."

The caucus fights racism, sexism, clericalism and "heterosexism" in the church.

Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.

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