Bishop on trial for refusing to permit same-sex marriages

The Rev Chip Strickland speaks during the defence of Bishop Love in a Zoom disciplinary hearing

A bishop in the US Episcopal Church was on trial this week after banning gay marriage ceremonies in his diocese.

The Bishop of Albany, William Love, defended his actions at a hearing on Friday held over Zoom because of Covid-19 social distancing restrictions. 

The bishop was on trial under the Church's Title IV disciplinary process, which deals with alleged violations of vows or Church constitutions and canons. 

Restrictions were placed on his ministry by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry - who wed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle - after Bishop Love introduced a policy in December 2018 banning gay marriage ceremonies in his diocese. 

His actions followed the passing of Resolution B012 by the Church's General Convention permitting same-sex wedding ceremonies in all dioceses, including those under an objecting bishop.

The Church argues that Bishop Love's policy amounts to breaking his ordination vows to "conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church". 

At Friday's hearing, the Church's lawyer Paul Cooney asserted that Bishop Love had not only violated Resolution B012, but also refused to accept the offer of the provision of liberal bishops to provide pastoral oversight for gay marrying couples and their celebrants.

"Conflicting portions of the Albany marriage canons are unenforceable," he said.

"Diocesan constitutions and canons may not be inconsistent with those of the constitutional canons of General Convention." 

He continued: "By denying same-sex couples access to the authorised marriage rites, [Bishop Love] has failed to conform to the worship of the Church. 

"The Church's sacramental rites are theologically sacred and a pastorally critical element of its worship, and by prohibiting same-sex couples access to the sacramental rite of marriage, [Bishop Love] fails to conform to this holy and important element of worship of the Episcopal Church." 

Bishop Love was represented in the hearing by the Rev Chip Strickland, Chancellor of the Diocese of Albany, who said the bishop had not committed a canonical violation because B012 did not hold canonical status. 

"Our position, obviously, is that the Church has failed to prove any offence by Bishop Love," he said. 

"We in the Diocese of Albany understand where the Church is headed. There is an overwhelming consensus in the Church today in favour of same-sex marriage, we know that. 

"However, as of today and in 2018, the doctrine of the Church as found in the marriage rites, the prefaces in the marriage rites and the catechism defines marriage as between a man and a woman. 

"The discipline of the Church, which under Title IV, is found among other places in the rubrics, show us that according to those rubrics in the marriage rite, that marriage is between a man and a woman. 

"The worship of the Church, found in the same places I've just mentioned, in the Book of Common Prayer, which is obviously the worship of the Church, show that marriage is between a man and a woman. 

"It's ironic that Bishop Love is on trial today for failing to conform when in fact, the facts in law will show that he's fully conformed with the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church."

Bishop Love only spoke briefly during the hearing, including once when asked about his pastoral care for same-sex couples who experienced pain because they were not able to marry in his diocese.

"I've tried to be pastorally sensitive to that," he said. 

"I have consistently met with same-sex couples and spoken to them personally ... I do know how difficult this is for all of us and my heart is breaking for all of us. It's breaking for the Church."

The Bishop of Rhode Island, Nicholas Knisely, who presided over the hearing, said a written decision on Bishop Love's actions would be issued in the coming weeks. 

The hearing was strongly criticised by GAFCON, a global conservative fellowship within the Anglican Communion, which said: "So we have the tragic and paradoxical prosecution of a faithful bishop using church laws that were designed to protect the integrity of the Christian faith now being deployed to enforce practices that are contrary to Scripture.

"TEC has become an institution which systematically distorts the truth of the gospel and yet enjoys the endorsement of the Archbishop of Canterbury with even those of its bishops in same sex unions being invited to Lambeth." 

The hearing can be watched in full below: