McLEAN, Va. — Conservative priests reacted dismissively to an announcement by Virginia Episcopal BishopPeter J. Lee that he was defrocking them for abandoning the church in a dispute over theological interpretations, church authority and homosexuality.
The 20 priests affected by Bishop Lee’s announcement said yesterday that Bishop Lee can’t defrock them because they are no longer under his authority. They compared his actions, announced Thursday, to firing an employee who has already quit.
“The reality is, it doesn’t have much effect on us,” said the Rev. Jack Grubbs, rector of Potomac Falls Church in Sterling, Va., one of 19 Virginia churches that has split from the Episcopal Church and sought to realign under more conservative Anglican bishops in Africa.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The U.S. church has been in turmoil for years, precipitated by the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. Episcopal leaders contend that the breakaway congregations have no right to leave the Episcopal Church. Ownership of the disputed church properties is the subject of a lawsuit.
As a practical matter, Bishop Lee’s decision to remove the priests, formally called an “inhibition,” most directly affects the priests’ pensions, sharply reducing the benefits of those nearing retirement.
Mr. Grubbs said the decision was unnecessarily divisive.
Bishop Lee “could have recognized the reality that a division has occurred and taken a more gracious approach” by allowing the priests to transfer to another bishop, Mr. Grubbs said.
Jim Oakes, vice chairman of the newly created Anglican District of Virginia, accused Bishop Lee yesterday of pursuing a “scorched-earth policy” that heightens the tensions between the two sides.
But Patrick Getlein, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, said Bishop Lee had no choice but to remove the priests after they refused to recognize church authority.
“There weren’t any options here,” Mr. Getlein said.
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