Bishop pulls priest’s licence in rare trial

By on February 1, 2003

Perry-Gore

The bishop of Quebec has passed the most severe sentence possible upon one of his priests, severing the priest’s relationship with the diocese, lifting his licence and publicizing the sentencing to all Anglican clergy in Canada.

In his decision, released Jan. 15, Bishop Bruce Stavert pronounced the so-called sentence of deprivation against Canon Keith Perry-Gore of North Hatley, Que., following a rare ecclesiastical trial for disrespect to the bishop.

In an interview, Bishop Stavert said he felt “just terrible” about having to impose such a harsh sentence. “This was not something I was happy to do,” he said.

Canon Perry-Gore issued a press release after receiving the bishop’s decision. In it, he said he did not accept the guilty finding “because the diocesan canon on discipline has not been followed.”

The release continued: “this is not an objective process concerned with justice. This is abuse of episcopal power and a continuing abuse of diocesan priests.”

The bishop’s other options for sentencing were public or private admonition, or suspension from the exercise of ministry or office. Under the diocesan canons, a bishop may not defrock a priest.

“I’m still a priest,” Canon Perry-Gore said in an interview, adding that in spite of the ruling, he would still preside over a church service “if someone asks me.”

His troubles with the bishop began last September when he released to the media a six-page letter in which he criticized the bishop’s administration and his handling of statute law. Canon Perry-Gore said his letter was in response to one from the bishop, refusing to let him preside over a service at St. Luke’s, Magog, on Sept. 1 and threatening to revoke his licence if he went ahead. “It also said that retired clergy aren’t allowed to take services without permission of the incumbent, and there was no incumbent,” Canon Perry-Gore said. “The wardens asked me.” In his letter of response, Canon Perry-Gore condemned the bishop’s actions and alluded to Adolf Hitler’s reign, though the priest denies that he actually compared the bishop to Hitler.

The ecclesiastical trial, which Canon Perry-Gore did not attend, was held in Quebec City on Nov. 26 with four so-called church triers hearing the case. The priest also did not respond to a summons to appear before the bishop, although he did write back and say he was not guilty.

The triers recommended the sentence of deprivation to the bishop, who made the final decision.

Bishop Stavert said Canon Perry-Gore’s letter, which was distributed widely, offended people in the diocese. “People are scandalized that a bishop could be treated that way. It’s not the Anglican way and there would be no church if that kind of thing went on.”

Canon Perry-Gore said his dispute with the bishop of Quebec is corporate, not personal, and that he is fighting for a principle. His complaint with the bishop, he said, is over the bishop’s handling of the statutes for the diocese. “My point is that if you don’t have law you have anarchy.”

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