- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

The Episcopal Church's top bishop said yesterday that charges against Washington Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon for interference in a parish have been sent to a legal panel, which he urged to act quickly since the time is approaching to elect a new bishop here.

"I forwarded the charges to the Review Committee on July 20, and asked the committee to turn to this matter as soon as possible, and to do its work on an expedited basis," Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said in a letter to the House of Bishops.

Earlier this month, 41 conservative laity, clergy and bishops issued two "presentments," or charges, that Bishop Dixon violated a church deadline in trying to remove a traditionalist priest hired by the vestry, or council, at Christ Church in Accokeek.

Bishop Dixon, who was elected as suffragan, or assistant, bishop in 1992, is acting bishop as the Washington Diocese prepares to nominate candidates for bishop in the fall and hold an election in January. Bishop Dixon will retire next year after a period of transition.

In yesterday's letter, Bishop Griswold said the nine-member Review Committee, "after careful consideration, issue a presentment or dismiss the charges." If the presentment is issued, Bishop Dixon would face a church trial.

"We are eager to get the presentment charges resolved," said Canon Carter Echols of the diocese. "We don't think they have merit." She said the diocesan leadership awaits a time when "members of Christ Church are worshipping together again."

Led by the vestry, about 30 of the church's members worship at the parish sanctuary with the Rev. Samuel Edwards, a traditionalist priest from Texas who opposes women's ordination. He was hired early this year.

Last month, Bishop Dixon filed suit in U.S. District Court to remove Mr. Edwards from parish leadership, since she did not approve his hiring.

About 65 members of the divided parish who agree with Bishop Dixon, the diocese reports, meet Sundays at a nearby community center, where Bishop Ronald H. Haines, who retired in January, serves as temporary pastor.

Though two presentments against a bishop are rare, there are no cases in recent memory when even one survived a Review Committee. Complaints against liberal Bishop John Spong, who ordained homosexuals and criticized Christian doctrine, never got past the panel, clergy said yesterday.

The Review Committee is appointed every three years by the presiding bishop and president of the House of Deputies, which is made up of clergy and laity.

The only Episcopal Church trial in recent decades came in 1996 when Bishop Walter C. Righter of New Hampshire was tried but cleared of heresy charges for ordaining noncelibate homosexuals.

The trial was required because the presentment came from 10 ruling diocesan bishops, the number necessary to bypass the review panel. The charges against Bishop Dixon are well below that threshold, with three retired bishops filing one of the complaints.

"These events are transpiring at a particularly unfortunate time in that the diocese is proceeding toward the election of a new diocesan bishop," Bishop Griswold said. "There have been efforts at mediating this dispute, and although they have not been successful, I continue to hope that further informal discussions could produce a resolution."

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