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2 new bishops challenge unity of communion
New bishops Charles H. Murphy III, left, and John H. Rodgers at their consecration in Singapore.

Episcopal Life staff

     Two American priests consecrated as bishops in Singapore on Jan. 29 have ignited a firestorm of debate among Anglicans worldwide.
     The action by six bishops, apparently performed outside normal procedures, will be a major focus of a meeting March 23-28 of the leaders of the 38 autonomous Anglican churches in Oporto, Portugal. Two of the consecrating bishops, Moses Tay and Emmanuel Kolini, are primates.
     What is generally acknowledged is that Charles H. Murphy III, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, Pawley's Island, S.C., and John H. Rodgers Jr., dean-emeritus of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., are now bishops of Rwanda and South East Asia, respectively. Their consecrations are considered valid but "irregular."
     But their plan "to minister to those congregations [in the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.] who believe that the authority of Scripture and the historic creeds are central to our faith, conduct, and unity as Anglicans," as Murphy stated in a press release, has precipitated a potential crisis.
     Bishops need permission to enter another bishop's diocese, according to Episcopal canon law. The principle was affirmed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference of bishops. But the two new bishops apparently intend to enter other bishops' dioceses with or without a welcome. Those involved in the Singapore ceremony contend that many bishops are violating their ordination vows -- and ignoring another Lambeth resolution -- by ordaining non-celibate homosexuals, blessing same-sex unions and otherwise violating "the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as the Anglican Church has received them," as the press release stated.
    "The apostasy of the '12 Theses' [of Bishop John Spong], the continued rejection of the Lambeth resolutions by a number of dioceses ... have gone unrebuked as the boundaries of Christian and Anglican faith have been notoriously breached," wrote Tay, primate of South East Asia, and Kolini, primate of Rwanda, to Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey after the consecrations.
     "The unity of Anglicanism must be understood as grounded not merely in polity but fundamentally in the historic faith entrusted to us. Far from being an attack on the [Anglican] Communion, this action is an affirmation of the unity of Anglican doctrine and faith which has been frequently and flagrantly violated in the [Episcopal Church]."

Strong opposition

     Reaction to the consecrations was swift and mostly negative.
     Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold sent a letter to bishops in which he said, "I am appalled by this irregular action and even more so by the purported 'crisis' that has been largely fomented by them and others, and which bears very little resemblance to the church we actually know, which is alive and well and faithful, as the Zacchaeus report so clearly indicates" .
     Carey issued his own statement, which stated that "it is his view that such consecrations are irresponsible and irregular and only harm the unity of the communion." Griswold later met with Carey and his chancellor in London.
     For some conservative bishops, the action was ill-timed. Three of them, Archbishop Harry Goodhew of the Diocese of Sydney, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of the Church of Tanzania and Presiding Bishop Maurice Sinclair of the Church of the Southern Cone, stated in a letter, "We are disappointed that our friends acted against our clear advice and we cannot approve such a step as they have taken at this time."
     The letter referred to a meeting in November in Kampala, Uganda. After that meeting, nine bishops, seven of them primates, wrote that they would seek "effective measures" in places where the "boundaries of Christian and Anglican faith have been notoriously breached."

Questions ahead

     Although Murphy said he planned to remain "rector emeritus" of All Saints, according to a Charleston, S.C., newspaper report, Bishop Edward L. Salmon of the Diocese of South Carolina wrote in a pastoral letter to his diocese that relationships still would have to be worked out.
     "The consecrations pose serious questions about the relationships of provinces of the Anglican Communion to the American church, doctrinal and canonical issues within the American church and canonical questions within the Diocese of South Carolina," wrote Salmon on Feb. 2. He continued, "Obviously the office of bishop now is his status, therefore in reality, he is not a priest of the diocese. I will have to depend on the chancellor to work these matters out canonically. He has stated his desire to remain at All Saints' Church. To do so will require my permission and license."
     One of the consecrators is Bishop FitzSimons Allison, Salmon's predecessor. In his letter, Salmon said that in a discussion with Murphy and Allison, he "pointed out the strange canonical issues" and mentioned "the commitment that Bishop Murphy made some time ago to live in the diocese and not be divisive to its common life."
     A second retired U.S. bishop, Alex Dickson of West Tennessee, took part in the Singapore ceremony.
     One of the largest parishes in the diocese, All Saints contributes $62,000 a year to South Carolina's $2 million budget, 4.5 percent of its net income, according to the Rev. Canon Michael Malone, diocesan financial officer. The diocese asks parishes to give 10 percent on a voluntary basis.

Pledged resistance

     In several dioceses, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., parishes have resisted the ministry of their bishops because the bishops support gay blessings and ordinations.
     Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania said that he would tell the clergy in his diocese not to invite one of the missionary bishops. "That would put it in a canonical context," he said. If his order was defied, action could be taken against the rector involved.

Episcopal News Service contributed to this story.

Historical / legal questions /Presiding Bishop Griswold's letters / Other reactions

Archbishop Moses Tay, center, flanked by the Rwandans and Bishops Rogers and Murphy, with other participants in the consecration.
Cartoon by Noel Ford from the Church Times (London)