Consecrations spark outrage

Published March 1, 2000

The consecrations of two conservative American priests in Singapore – for service in the United States – have been criticized by liberal and conservative Anglicans worldwide, including Canada’s primate, as everything from “desperate” to “an act of schism.”

The two priests – Rev. Charles H. Murphy III, formerly of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pawley’s Island, S.C., and Very Rev. John H. Rodgers Jr., dean emeritus of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa. – were consecrated on Jan. 29 by Moses Tay, archbishop of Southeast Asia and Emmanuel Kolini, archbishop of Rwanda. Bishop John Ruchyahana of Shyira in Rwanda and three retired bishops (David Pytches of Chile, Bolivia and Peru; Alex Dickson of West Tennessee and FitzSimons Allison of South Carolina assisted.)

Bishops Murphy and Rodgers say they took the action to halt the continuing exodus of conservatives from the Episcopal Church U.S.A. for violating biblical orthodoxy and Anglican tradition by, among other things, they say, ordaining gay priests and blessing homosexual unions.

There is also concern about women’s ordination, particularly how it was introduced. In 1974 four bishops ordained 11 women (the “Philadelphia 11”) before church law permitted it. The ordinations were later retroactively approved.

Bishops Murphy and Rodgers will serve as floating bishops on invitation only from various dioceses, a scenario with precedent in the flying bishops in the Church of England. The men will also “actively seek to plant Anglican missions in areas where there are receptive communities and little faithful witness in the Episcopal church.”

Primate Michael Peers called the consecrations “an open and premeditated assault on Anglican tradition, catholic order and Christian charity.” In a statement released Feb. 4, he said “Bishops are not intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactured on one continent and fired into another as an act of aggression.”

In the hierarchy of the church, a primate (archbishop) is head of a church area called a province, a geographical district usually divided along country borders. Bishops oversee groups of parishes in dioceses within that province, usually divided by city or state borders. The Singapore ordinations move outside that pattern and thus raise questions of jurisdiction, accountability – and a potential church split.

Are the men accountable to the two primates who consecrated them or to Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of ECUSA, in whose province they will serve? What is their area of jurisdiction? There is already a bishop for South Carolina and for Pennsylvania. Are the consecrations valid?

Because they were done in secret, there is concern that they did not allow for a clause in the ordination rite, which allows objections to be expressed.

“It is an act of schism which strikes at the very heart of our unity as Christians,” said Michael Ingham, bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster.

Last year Bishop Ingham refused permission for Archbishop Tay to speak in the diocese. “At the time I said he would ‘not be a unifying force in this diocese.’ He has proved my fears to be well grounded.”

Schism is a possibility. Bishop Murphy is head of the group First Promise, formed last year to propose a new province within the Anglican Communion based on theology rather than geography. Bishop Rodgers was nominated to serve as bishop of the potential new province.

Meanwhile, Archbishops Tay and Kolini attended a meeting of conservative primates in Kampala, Uganda, last November that also discussed forming a new province, though they agreed to delay such a move until primates from around the world meet in Portugal in March.

“It is disturbing that this act of desperation took place before an international agreement was reached to establish a new province. But the judgmental reaction it has provoked is even more disturbing,” said Tony Burton, Bishop of Saskatchewan. “If these American Anglicans will go to such lengths to remain in the Anglican Communion rather than washing their hands of it (as so many have), should we just tell them to pack their bags and get out? Or will we find a mechanism that can allow us to live in the greatest degree of communion possible?”

Peter Moore, a theological conservative who was rector of “Little” Trinity Church in Toronto and now Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in the U.S., said he “regrets the pressures upon traditionalists” in ECUSA that led to the consecrations, but reiterated that they are “contrary to what was agreed in a meeting in which they shared in Kampala.

“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.” Marianne Meed Ward is a Toronto freelance writer and broadcaster.


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