Priest is defrocked but taken in by others
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Sun Sep 8 00:49:53 EDT 2002
Priest is defrocked but taken in by others
By David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA, PA--David Moyer has been removed from ministry in the
A long-awaited ax fell just before noon today, when the Episcopal
bishop of Pennsylvania officially defrocked his archcritic, the Rev.
David L. Moyer of Rosemont, for "abandoning the communion of the
But in a highly unusual move, Father Moyer, a nationally known
conservative rector who opposes the ordination of women and
homosexuals, immediately announced support from the archbishop of
Bishop of Pennsylvania Charles E. Bennison and Moyer have been locked
in a dispute for five years. Moyer has condemned the bishop as too
liberal, barring the senior leader from performing rites or making
official visits at his parish, the Church of the Good Shepherd.
But the feud took an international turn today when Father Moyer
revealed that the Rev. Charles Carey, archbishop of Canterbury and
symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, had made him a
priest in the Church of England just days ago.
"It keeps me a priest in good standing in the eyes of the head of the
Anglican communion," Father Moyer, 51, said in a telephone interview.
The archbishop of Canterbury is the symbolic head of the worldwide
Anglican communion, of which the Episcopal Church, USA, is a part. But
such an intervention in a local discipline matter is extremely unusual.
The Rev. Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, also issued a statement
condemning the defrocking as invalid and "due-process denying." He made
Father Moyer a priest of the Pittsburgh diocese. "This really is
unusual," said the Rev. Frederick Borsch, retired Episcopal bishop of
Los Angeles and a dean at Yale Divinity School.
"But off the top of my head, I'd say you can't do" what Archbishop
Carey and Bishop Duncan did, he said. "For a deposed priest to serve
again, he has to be undeposed, and there are all sorts of canonical
procedures involved. You can't do it willy-nilly."
Even the bishop who defrocks, or "deposes," a priest cannot reinstate
him or her for a year and must have the approval of the surrounding
diocesan bishops and two-thirds of the diocesan Standing Committee,
Bishop Borsch said.
Father Moyer, a priest for 25 years and rector of Good Shepherd for 13,
has vocally opposed the ordination of women and homosexuals, and was a
harsh critic of Bishop Bennison's predecessor, the Rev. Allen Bartlett,
whom he also viewed as too liberal.
In 1997, after the Episcopal Church, USA's triennial General Convention
required all priests and bishops to accept female priests, he hosted a
national convention at Good Shepherd of rebellious church
conservatives, where they formed their own "province" within the
Father Moyer is now president of that organization, known as Forward in
Faith, and he has formed alliances with conservative bishops nationally
Bishop Bennison today questioned the validity of Archbishop Carey's or
Bishop Duncan's actions. "If his [Archbishop Carey's] letter was issued
before today's formal deposition, I would question if it still holds,"
He also called Bishop Duncan's action "a very desperate and radical
"What they're saying is that what I've done is not valid - that he's
still a priest. But according to the canons, if a bishop deposes, the
priest is no longer a priest."
Bishop Bennison had "inhibited," or suspended, Father Moyer six months
ago and threatened his removal if Father Moyer did not allow him to
make official visits to the parish.
He also insisted that Father Moyer decline his recent nomination by
Forward in Faith to be ordained a bishop.
Father Moyer refused these and other demands of the bishop and awaited
his removal, which he today called a "persecution" and an "offense to
He contends that Bishop Bennison had ousted him with an obscure church
law intended to only decommission Episcopal priests who commit crimes
or formally renounce the faith.
The Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the 2.4-million member
Episcopal Church, USA, has conveyed misgivings to Bishop Bennison about
Father Moyer's impending removal, according to his assistant, Janet
Nunley, "but so far he's treating this as a local matter until it gets
to his desk." He did not return a request for comment today.
Thirteen active bishops and two retired bishops of the Episcopal Church
also issued a signed statement condemning Bishop Bennison's removal of
Father Moyer's lawyer, John Lewis, today also filed a civil lawsuit in
Montgomery County Court, charging Bishop Bennison with "fraud,
misrepresentation, collusion, bad faith and denial of due process."
"Theoretically, what Charles Bennison has said is that David Moyer
cannot serve as a priest anywhere in the Anglican communion, and he's
done this without ever granting him a trial or an appeal," Lewis said.
Father Moyer announced he will say the noon Mass today at Trinity
Cathedral in Pittsburgh. In an interview, he said he intends to remain
rector of Good Shepherd, a parish of about 450 members which he has led
for 13 years.
"I will stay in place and resume my priestly duties," he said.
But Bishop Bennison said that while he has no intention of evicting the
Moyer family from Good Shepherd's rectory, Father Moyer "must leave his
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