- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

After getting tacit approval in a meeting this week from the Episcopal House of Bishops, a bishop involved in a battle with a Philadelphia priest said he will eventually win, even if it means taking over one of the most historic churches in his diocese.

If the 450-member Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd does not heed his instructions within 60 days, Bishop Charles Bennison said he will repossess the title to the stone church in the Philadelphia suburb of Rosemont.

"The bishop would de facto be the rector [pastor]," he said, "and have oversight over the affairs of the parish."

In which case, the priest of Good Shepherd, the Rev. David Moyer, and his assistant, the Rev. Garrin Dickinson, would be dismissed. Over several years, Mr. Moyer has criticized the bishop's liberal theology and refused to allow Bishop Bennison to celebrate Communion or preach at the church.

Earlier this year, Bishop Bennison had "inhibited" Mr. Moyer silencing the priest for six months on the grounds that he broke canon law by refusing the bishop entrance to the church.

Mr. Moyer responded with a civil lawsuit charging emotional damages and "interference with employment."

The bishop defrocked Mr. Moyer on Sept. 5, after which Mr. Moyer filed a second lawsuit in Montgomery County Court to declare the defrocking invalid.

Although the defrocking was condemned by numerous conservative bishops, Bishop Bennison said he got support at a recent Episcopal House of Bishops meeting in Cleveland.

There, bishops passed a "mind of the house" resolution saying bishops should recognize defrockings by other bishops.

That was seen as a veiled rebuke to Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who outflanked Bishop Bennison last month by installing Mr. Moyer as a priest in good standing in his diocese. It was also a hands-off message to outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, a personal friend of Mr. Moyer's who refused to recognize the defrocking. His designate, Archbishop Rowan Williams, likewise backed Mr. Moyer.

Bishop Bennison said he talked with both archbishops on the phone.

"I understand his situation," he said of Archbishop Carey, "because he's really dealing with the global communion [of Anglicans] and is trying to hold it together. While I have a deep affection for the archbishop of Canterbury, he does not have authority in the case. He does not have to live with or even understand American canon law."

As for Archbishop Williams, the designate had to say what he did, "as it was important to honor the statement of his predecessor-to-be."

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who oversees the U.S. Episcopal Church, is said to have opposed the defrocking and wrote a letter to Bishop Bennison saying so.

"It was a nice, long handwritten letter, but I don't remember what he said," Bishop Bennison said. "I think it's a confidential matter between us. He worked very hard for reconciliation between us and Rosemont, even though there was not the result we had hoped."

John Lewis, attorney for Mr. Moyer, says the bishop obtained a mailing list for Good Shepherd and had scheduled several meetings with parishioners to explain his side of the story.

At the most recent one, Mr. Lewis said, there were only seven parishioners present.

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