- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

Bishop Jane Dixon of the Diocese of Washington will be served with two presentments — ecclesiastical charges — today by 41 conservative Episcopal laity, clergy and bishops who accuse her of violating church law.
Both presentments accuse Bishop Dixon of violating a 30-day deadline to register a complaint against a conservative parish priest who sought to move into her diocese and of refusing several attempts to settle the dispute amicably.
Usually one presentment is considered quite serious in the life of a bishop; two is almost unheard of. But canon lawyer Chuck Nalls says many of the parties to the case are disgrunted Episcopalians from around the country who sent their signatures to him by overnight mail.
Since March, Bishop Dixon has been trying to oust the Rev. Samuel Edwards, a conservative priest, from his new job at Christ Church parish in Accokeek, Md. The bishop says Mr. Edwards' views on women's ordination and church policy deviate from Episcopal doctrine and that he is not qualified to head a parish.
A few weeks ago, she filed suit in federal court to stop him from officiating at Sunday services. Mr. Nalls will file a motion Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to dismiss the case. The hearing will be Aug. 23 in front of District Judge Peter J. Messitte.
Mr. Nalls has compiled the two presentments in an effort to persuade the judge that the matter belongs in a church court.
The first presentment is signed by three retired Episcopal bishops: C. FitzSimons Allison of Charleston, S.C.; Maurice "Ben" Benitez of Austin, Texas; and William C. Wantland of Eau Claire, Wis. Active bishops who wanted to sign the document, Mr. Nalls said, are under pressure not to do so from Episcopal Church headquarters in New York.
The second is signed by three Episcopal priests and 35 laity, most of them members of small churches in the eastern part of diocese near Accokeek, which is in Prince George's County. One of the priests, the Rev. Stephen T. Arpee, lives in the District; the other two, the Rev. David H. Moyer and the Rev. Judith M. Gentle, are from the Episcopal dioceses of Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, respectively.
Yesterday morning, an almost-festive atmosphere reigned at Mr. Nalls' downtown Washington office where about 20 people crammed into an eighth-floor conference room to notarize their signatures on the presentments. Also present was Mr. Edwards.
"Thank you for having the gumption for signing this," the priest said.
"It's an honor," three people chorused.
"I'm not thanking you for me," Mr. Edwards said. "From the get-go, this hasn't been about me. It's about the insistence that the officers of the Episcopal Church abide by their own rules. We are governed by laws, not by the whims of our rulers. The time for our toleration of the latter is over. It's time for the Episcopal Church to take a stand as to where it is."
Mr. Nalls and the vestry, or governing board, of Christ Church have insisted for several months that Bishop Dixon's almost 90-day wait to register her objections to Mr. Edwards' appointment violated canon law.
"I feel Bishop Dixon has left us no alternative," said Melinda Courtney, a member of Christ Church who signed the presentment. "There are provisions in the canons that protect vestries and parishes from abusive bishops."
Diocese spokeswoman Canon Carter Echols refused comment on the presentments, as she had not seen them. Bishop Dixon, who retires next year, is on vacation until Monday.
If brought before an ecclesiastical court and found guilty, a bishop could be deposed, or removed from office.
Mr. Nalls conceded chances of that happening are slim, as Bishop Dixon enjoys the support of many members of the Episcopal House of Bishops, one-third of whom must approve for an ecclesiastical trial to go forward.

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