- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

PHILADELPHIA The Episcopal Church, a faith struggling with widening splits over female priests, homosexuality and doctrinal issues, is headed for another big showdown, as the head of a traditionalist group could be defrocked next week.

The Rev. David L. Moyer, president of the national organization Forward in Faith, hasn't ministered to parishioners in his suburban Philadelphia congregation during a six-month suspension imposed by Bishop Charles E. Bennison.

But when the suspension ends Wednesday, Mr. Moyer says he will be back on the job. He plans to defy the bishop if he is ordered to step down.

"I think he's going to depose me," said Mr. Moyer, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pa. "I'm not going to regard the deposition as valid. I plan to continue on as rector here."

Mr. Moyer's case not only reflects dissension in the Episcopal Church, but in the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion to which it belongs.

Last week, Forward in Faith nominated Mr. Moyer and a rector in another Pennsylvania diocese to be bishops who would serve congregations in various dioceses that oppose liberal trends in the Episcopal Church.

Forward in Faith urged the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Frank T. Griswold in New York, to have the group's nominees elected and consecrated as bishops so they can provide oversight for "congregations which hold fast to the Church's historic ministry, and do not accept the ordination of women as priests and bishops."

If Bishop Griswold and the U.S. church refuse, Forward in Faith hopes conservative Anglican churches overseas will consecrate the bishops it is proposing. That would stir further trouble in the Anglican Communion, whose leaders are meeting in Hong Kong on Sept. 15 and already must deal with the decision of dioceses in Kansas and British Columbia to approve same-sex unions presided over by priests.

Bishop Bennison, the bishop of the four-county Diocese of Pennsylvania, has opposed the idea of Forward in Faith bishops. He said "the oppression of women cannot be minimized."

Mr. Moyer has the support of "95 percent plus" of his parish of about 450 people, said John H. Lewis Jr., a parishioner and an attorney who is representing the priest in a civil lawsuit that says that his suspension was a breach of contract.

"It's a very loyal congregation," Mr. Lewis said. At a parish meeting on the situation, he said, "Father Moyer spoke, and I spoke. We got standing ovations."

The support hasn't diminished the stress of the priest's six-month suspension for refusing to invite Bishop Bennison to visit and preach at Good Shepherd, Mr. Moyer said.

"It's very stressful emotionally, sitting in a congregation, and not being able to visit the sick, and take them Holy Communion. I haven't been able to do what priests do for their congregations. I haven't been able to marry people, I haven't been able to bury people. I have been unable to baptize children," Mr. Moyer said. "I collapsed in church on one day."

Mr. Lewis was there at the time. "I was sitting in the back of the church with my wife. He came back and sobbed on my shoulder," he said.

Bishop Bennison declined to comment on what his decision would be on Wednesday, the end of the six months Mr. Moyer was given in which to change his stand and end his "inhibition" as a priest. The bishop said he sympathized with Mr. Moyer's and his congregation's predicament.

"My heart goes out to them," Bishop Bennison said. "I am full of both a sense of grief and loss on one hand, and not least, as a pastor, my failure to reach them. I wish that I could find a way to do that that would be acceptable to Father Moyer."

Mr. Moyer and his backers say the differences go beyond disagreements over the ordination of women or recognition of same-sex unions. To them, the issue is the treatment of those who stand by long-held beliefs and whether the church must change because popular culture is changing.

"It's more a question of whether we're in a Christian church or a social club," Mr. Lewis said.

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