WASHINGTON (ABP) — A Washington Post reporter has uncovered a confidential document laying out plans by disgruntled American Episcopalians ultimately to supplant their national denomination in the eyes of global Anglican leaders.
Conservative leaders within the Episcopal Church USA, who recently formed a network of like-minded parishes and dioceses, have repeatedly denied they are leaving the denomination. But the confidential document suggests some may be ready soon to violate church policies in order to break completely from the Episcopal Church.
The memorandum, revealed in a Jan. 14 story by Post religion reporter Alan Cooperman, was penned by Goffrey Chapman, rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in suburban Pittsburgh. Dated Dec. 28, 2003, the document states that the “ultimate goal” of traditionalist Episcopalians would be “a 'replacement' jurisdiction with confessional standards … closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism.”
This would mean that other Anglican jurisdictions around the world could ultimately recognize the new conservative group as the authentic presence of the Anglican tradition in the United States and formally break communion with the Episcopal Church.
American Episcopalians have been embroiled in conflict since the Nov. 2 consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Denominational leaders voted earlier in the year to confirm Robinson's election, despite the fact he is openly gay and has been living in a monogamous sexual relationship with another man for 14 years.
In December, dissenting bishops representing 13 conservative dioceses among the 100 dioceses in the Episcopal Church U.S.A., formed the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, naming the Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh as “moderator and convening authority.”
In the Episcopal tradition, bishops exercise considerable spiritual and legal authority over local churches, including approving new clergy and controlling the ownership of parish property.
The presiding bishop of the U.S. church has offered a plan for alternative episcopal oversight for conservative individuals and parishes in dioceses headed by bishops they consider too liberal. But conservative leaders have rejected the offer.
Chapman's document said the presiding bishop's plan is “unacceptable, fundamentally flawed and disingenuous, and does not meet the needs of our parishes or the intentions” of the worldwide Anglican leaders, who also suggested a plan for alternative oversight.
Chapman's document also says that participating in alternative oversight within the ECUSA is simply the first phase in a two-phase plan. The second phase would include “negotiated settlements in matters of property, jurisdiction, pastoral succession and communion” between conservative parishes and bishops whose authority they reject to remove church property from diocesan ownership.
Chapman said that if such settlements cannot be reached, then “a faithful disobedience of [church] law on a widespread basis may be necessary.”
Leaders of the ECUSA expressed dismay over the document, which was addressed to supporters of the conservative American Anglican Council.
“I should think that many Episcopalians, who may well be disappointed with the election in New Hampshire, will be surprised and unhappy to see what the AAC is covertly trying to bring about,” said church spokesman Dan England, according to Episcopal News Service. “We have said consistently, and openly, that we need all voices in the conversation about how we can best carry out the mission of the church, and that includes the people of the American Anglican Council.”
A smaller, closed-door meeting of bishops and other representatives from the handful of conservative dioceses in the church is scheduled for Jan. 19-20 in Texas. Leaders are expected to provide more shape to the network then.