- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

ROSEMONT, Pa. — The Rev. David Moyer oversees a church of 550 members and seven staff, including two priests and a deacon. The week before Easter normally is the busiest and most frantic in his entire year.

But Mr. Moyer, 51, will not be presiding at the altar this Easter Sunday because his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison, has banished him from the sanctuary as of March 4.

His crime: not allowing Bishop Bennison, 58, to preach or distribute Communion at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, a venerable stone building with a cloister off Lancaster Pike two blocks from Villanova University in an affluent Philadelphia suburb. Mr. Moyer says his superior is too liberal and cannot be trusted in the pulpit of his Anglo-Catholic church.

Anglo-Catholics, who are the most traditional members of the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church, do not believe in the ordination of women or homosexuals. Of the diocese's 300 clergy, about two dozen are homosexual and 87 are female.

Conservative Episcopalians around the 70,000-member Diocese of Pennsylvania, the country's fifth-largest, also have been unhappy with their bishop's nuanced position on the Resurrection and his disbelief that Christianity is the only way to heaven.

The Resurrection, for instance, was a "real presence" of Christ but not necessarily his fleshly body, Bishop Bennison says.

"The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that it is sown a fleshly body, then raised a spiritual body," he says. "The Gospel writers, who are writing one or two generations after the event, seem to point to how it is unclear Easter morning and Easter eve who he really is. [The Bible] is not exactly clear on this issue."

At least six other parishes at one time or another likewise have refused pulpits to Bishop Bennison and two predecessors, Bishops Alan Bartlett and Franklin Turner. Two churches have left the diocese under Bishop Bennison's leadership and one is suing to keep its property.

However, Episcopal canon law mandates the bishop must be allowed to preside at a parish once every three years. Until 1997, dissenting parishes in the Diocese of Pennsylvania were allowed to bring in a more conservative prelate to do confirmations and ordinations ecclesiastical acts only a bishop can perform. But this arrangement was halted after Bishop Bennison took office in 1998.

It was soon after this point that Mr. Moyer, an urbane, pipe-smoking cleric with 25 years of experience under his belt, took over leadership of Forward in Faith North America (FIFNA), a 19,000-member organization of traditional Episcopalians.

He continued to refuse Bishop Bennison access to his church. He did, however, invite more conservative bishops to do so, including the Anglican archbishop of the Southern Cone (South America) who came in November 2000. Bishop Bennison attended the service but sat in the pews.

That occurred a few months after Bishop Bennison brought a resolution to the Episcopal Church's General Convention in Denver asking the denomination to study "the sin of heterosexism." It did not pass.

Several months ago, FIFNA announced plans to consecrate its own bishop for conservative Episcopalians. Mr. Moyer's name was put on a list of candidates.

Bishop Bennison said his patience wore out on Jan. 28, when he received a document asking him to approve a background check for Mr. Moyer as a bishop candidate. On Jan. 31, he called a council of war; 28 church leaders from around the diocese were present.

After a two-hour discussion, "the majority of the group wanted me to take a harder line," he says. "Not one person opposed it."

Acting as a type of grand jury on Feb. 26, the diocesan standing committee, which deals with clergy discipline, voted 9-1 that Mr. Moyer had violated two church canons. The bishop then decided to "inhibit" Mr. Moyer, an ecclesiastical punishment that forbids a clergyman to conduct ministerial functions for six months.

The night of March 1, Mr. Moyer received a 20-page faxed document charging him with "abandoning the communion" of the Episcopal Church.

"The canon they used against me has no appeal," Mr. Moyer says. "I will automatically be deposed September 4 unless I let him in." To depose a priest is to remove him permanently from the priesthood.

His inhibition sent shock waves among Episcopal conservatives around the country.

"In your bid for power, you have wronged a good and holy priest," retired Eau Claire, Wis., Bishop William C. Wantland wrote Bishop Bennison. "You must be well aware that your reputation is that you are not a man of truth, that you have lied and gone back on your word many, many times. Far worse than that is the denial of basic Christian doctrine by you on numerous occasions."

But the mood around the diocese favored the bishop, said the Rev. Glenn Matis, president of the standing committee.

"Overwhelmingly, the majority of the people back Bishop Bennison in this matter," he said. "My phone calls have been running in high support of his and our actions."

In today's Episcopal church, the "heretics" are on the right. Conservative priests in two other dioceses likewise have been "inhibited" during the past several weeks. The Rev. Michael Donlon, a Tampa, Fla.-area clergyman, has been barred from his parish by Diocese of Southwest Florida Bishop John Lipscomb over differences between him and eight parishioners.

In Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the Rev. Ed. Mullins of Christ Church has been banned by his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs, for plagiarizing some of his sermons.

The Rev. Chuck Nalls, a canon lawyer representing Mr. Donlon, says inhibitions rarely are used by bishops, and even then only in cases of moral problems, serious crimes or endangering a life.

"These inhibitions are extremely thin in terms of complaint," he said. "Actually, it's being used as a device to separate the priest from his parish and get them away from the people who support and love them so they can be dealt with quietly in the future so the final blow can be struck alone in the dark.

"And the Moyer inhibition is utterly without basis. Doctrinely, it appears the bishop has abandoned communion, not David."

Mr. Moyer says he plans to put up a fight. His ace in the hole is none other than the archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the 63 million-member Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church is a small part. Photos of Mr. Moyer and the archbishop are placed about a parish reception area. A sympathetic note from the Most Rev. George R. Carey, dated March 1, is taped to the oaken doors of Church of the Good Shepherd.

For now, the priest is reading the writings of Martin Luther King on nonviolent protest.

"Sometimes the prince of the world has his way and sometimes Caesar wins," he says. "The bishop has the power to win in a worldly sense. He could force us out. But I don't think he fully anticipated the consequences of his actions against me."

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