An Appeal from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference
 
 

Unlike those dioceses, parishes and individuals who have been ostracized in recent times by authorities of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) for their orthodox stand on homosexuality, the Diocese of Fort Worth continues to go through various degrees of marginalization and intimidation for upholding the church’s traditional practice of holy orders in our refusal to ordain or license women as priests. By making the ordination of women priests mandatory, the Episcopal Church set itself apart from the mind of the rest of the Anglican Communion long before there arose the current divisive issues of the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same sex unions.

When the ECUSA’s General Convention in 1976, by the smallest simple majority, voted to change the wording in Canon III.8.1 in order to permit the ordination of women to the presbyterate and episcopate, there was a small but militant group who tried to claim that this newly revised canon was mandatory. But from the beginning, the majority view was that the new canon was merely permissive, and it is doubtful that anything other than a permissive canon could have passed in 1976. In the years following, by giving consent to the election of bishops who would not ordain or license women to the presbyterate and by several resolutions claiming that both those opposed to the ordination of women and those in favor were loyal members of ECUSA, the General Convention and the majority of bishops and dioceses upheld the permissive nature of the new canon. (See Exhibit A for a history of these decisions and resolutions, pg. 3.) During this time, the official position of ECUSA reflected the mind of the Eames Commission on Women in the Episcopate and the resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988 and 1998. (For the Lambeth 1998 resolution III.2, see Exhibit E, pg. 25.)

Then in 1995, under the influence of the then Presiding Bishop and the majority report of a committee appointed by him, the House of Bishops voted that it was the mind of the House that Canon III.8.1 was mandatory in all dioceses of the church. (See Exhibit B, pg. 13. For the minority report see Exhibit C, pg. 17.)

In 1997 the General Convention voted to make the ordination of women canon mandatory instead of permissive, forbidding anyone who opposed the ordination of women presbyters, be they clerical or lay, to hold a position of leadership in ECUSA. (See Exhibit D, pg. 24. For Resolution A053a see Exhibit C, pg. 16.) In doing so, ECUSA set it set itself apart from the rest of the Anglican Communion just as surely as it did in the election of Gene Robinson to the episcopate. And it also contradicted the clear teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles which insist that nothing shall be required to be believed which is not contained in Holy Scripture.

Following the retirement in 1999 of the Bishop of Eau Claire, a bishop opposed to the ordination of women to the presbyterate, the retiring bishop and other diocesan leaders were told that if they again elected anyone opposed to such ordinations, that person would not receive the necessary consents of the other ECUSA bishops and dioceses. Ironically, following the election in 2003 of a practicing homosexual as bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire, we heard the same people argue that a diocese should have whoever it wanted as its bishop. Since then the Diocese of Fort Worth has been told by the Presiding Bishop and others in authority that, should it again elect a bishop opposed to women in the presbyterate and episcopate, the bishop elect would not receive the necessary consents to be consecrated. By withholding such consents, ECUSA would make the survival of traditionalist clergy legally impossible.

In 2000, General Convention, noting that there were still three dioceses, including the Diocese of Fort Worth, that did not allow the ordination of women to the presbyterate or license them to function as such, set up a national Task Force to help ensure that the newly revised canon was adequately implemented in these dioceses.

Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia, convener of the Task Force, made two visits to the Diocese of Fort Worth. At the first one, he and other members of the Task Force talked to the diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker, the diocesan Standing Committee, and other diocesan leaders. Then he decided, without consulting Bishop Iker, to make another visit in order to hear from some of the liberal lay people and priests of the diocese. Despite Bishop Iker’s strong objection when he heard of the planned visit, Bishop Lee and his team returned to the diocese when Bishop Iker was out of the country.

We have no reason to expect that ECUSA will relent in the enforcement of its current policy of mandatory canons concerning the ordination of women. Furthermore, we contend that the revisions to the ordination canons have already paved the way for a mandatory policy of requiring the ordination of practicing homosexuals in the Episcopal Church. Canon III.1.2 already states that no person can be denied access to the ordination process because of sex or sexual orientation. The situation in which we find ourselves is untenable.

Our concern is for the future of our diocese. We have been assured by the governing body of ECUSA and by the present leadership that we shall not be able to choose future bishops and other diocesan leaders of our integrity while conforming to the present canons of ECUSA. The present canonical situation in ECUSA makes our future impossible. As a diocese committed to the “open process of reception” as articulated by the Eames Commission, we now appeal to you and the primates for some means by which we can remain full members of the Anglican Communion.

 
   
   

Cover letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury

 

   
   

Supporting Documents (PDF)

These exhibits include excerpts from:

The Catholic Faith, The Episcopal Church, and the Ordination of Women,
by the Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland

Minutes of the September 1995 House of Bishops meeting in Portland, Ore.

Minutes of the 72nd General Convention (1997)

Resolution III.2 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference