Ecclesiastical charges against the Rt. Rev. Andrew D. Smith dropped by Episcopal Church review committee
An elected Episcopal Church review committee has decided to drop all charges brought against Bishop Andrew D. Smith by the rectors and vestries of six parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.
Those rectors and some of their vestry members (elected lay leaders) had filed ecclesiastical charges against their bishop, alleging inappropriate application of canon (church) law, among other charges. The charges stemmed from the six rectors’ disagreement with Bishop Smith’s decision to support the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and their refusal to accept the Bishop’s attempts at reconciliation including delegation of another bishop to them.
“I am thankful to learn that the Title IV Review Committee found no cause to bring a Presentment based on the charges filed against me by the complaining clergy and lay members of this Diocese who found themselves at odds with my decisions and actions as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut,” said the Rt. Rev. Andrew D. Smith in a statement. “My desire has always been to bring reconciliation with the clergy and laity who sought to dissociate themselves from the oversight of their bishop and the mission and life of the Diocese of Connecticut. I will never abandon that desire and hope.
“The Episcopal Church has invested significant time and expense in responding to the charges which were filed by these members of the Diocese of Connecticut in 2005. I am deeply grateful for the care and thoroughness with which the Review Committee and the Church Attorney have investigated and considered the evidence, and I am thankful for their finding.
“My prayer is that Christ move us through and beyond the antagonisms which infect us in these times into stronger and clearer mission, witness and life together, that we may be a blessing to God.”
In spring 2005, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Connecticut, an elected council of advice, determined that each of the six rectors had “abandoned the communion of the Church.” They communicated their finding to the Bishop, who had the authority to inhibit the priests from exercising their priestly ministry based on that finding.
Bishop Smith inhibited one priest in June 2005, Mark Hansen, based on the Standing Committee recommendation as well as other concerns he had for the well-being of the parish at that time. Six months later, following canon law, Hansen was deposed (removed from the priesthood).
The formal ecclesiastical charges by the six rectors and some of their vestry members were submitted to the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, who at that time was the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III. He forwarded the charges to an established Review Committee for further investigation.
The Review Committee is comprised of five bishops, two priests, and two lay persons, appointed at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention. The bishops are appointed by the Presiding Bishop, and the clergy and laity are appointed by the President of the House of Deputies. The Committee acts in a way similar to a grand jury, which determines if there is enough evidence to proceed to a church trial.
During their investigation, Committee members requested and received numerous documents from the complainants and from the Diocese. Their final decision came in the form of an 89-page decision mailed on April 11, 2007 to attorneys for the Diocese and for the six (now five) rectors and vestry members. There is no provision for appeal.
Separately, and at about the same time as the ecclesiastical charges were filed, the rectors and vestry members of those churches filed charges against Bishop Smith in federal court. Those charges were dismissed in a ruling that declared the matter was more appropriate to be decided by church law. The decision was appealed by the rectors and vestry members and the case will be argued in early summer in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
The parishes whose rectors and vestry members filed the charges are Trinity Church, Bristol (the Rev. Donald Helmandollar); St. Paul’s, Darien (the Rev. Christopher Leighton); Christ & the Epiphany, East Haven (the Rev. Gil Wilkes); Bishop Seabury Church, Groton (the Rev. Ronald Gauss); and Christ Church, Watertown (the Rev. Allyn Benedict). The former rector and some former vestry members of St. John’s, Bristol, also filed charges, but the congregation has since elected a new vestry and has a new vicar appointed.
There are 174 parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, which comprises the entire state. Most, but not all, agree with Bishop Smith’s decision regarding Bishop Robinson and the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life and ministry of the church. Two parishes in the Diocese have accepted a delegated bishop through Smith’s office.
The six rectors and vestries, now five, acted collectively and with the direct support of the American Anglican Council (AAC). The AAC has been actively engaged in strategies to realign the Episcopal Church within the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a member. The strategy has been to get the Anglican Communion to recognize only the conservative parishes and dioceses as the “true” Episcopal Church, and to effectively “cut out” the vast majority of parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church.
For a PDF document of the Review Committee’s determination, visit http://www.ctdiocese.org/news/Title_IV_Review_Committee_Decision.pdf
August 21, 2006
Federal lawsuit against Bishop Smith is dismissed
A federal lawsuit filed against Connecticut Episcopal Bishop Andrew D. Smith was dismissed by a judge in a ruling yesterday, August 21.
The civil suit was filed last September by clergy and lay people from six Episcopal parishes (among 176) in Connecticut, against Bishop Smith and others, including the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church USA. The lawsuit accused them of depriving the six plaintiff parishes of their rights, under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and sought to have a state law that provided for corporate organization of the Episcopal Church declared unconstitutional.
The plaintiff parishes included lay members from St. Paul’s, Darien; Bishop Seabury, Groton; Christ Church, Watertown; Trinity, Bristol; Christ & the Epiphany, East Haven; and St. John’s, Bristol, and clergy from five of those parishes. All six had been in dispute with the Bishop and Diocese over Episcopal authority and jurisdiction. The conflict started in late 2003 with theological differences. As an accommodation to those differences, Bishop Smith offered Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) in early 2004 but it was not accepted by any of the six parishes. The suit was filed after the actions of the bishop in July 2005, when he intervened at St. John’s in Bristol, inhibiting the priest and installing a priest-in-charge and an administrator.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Janet B. Arterton concluded that the bishop acted under canon law, and that the claims by the plaintiffs lacked an essential element justifying a federal suit. Several other claims filed under Connecticut tort law were also dismissed by the federal judge.
Bishop Andrew D. Smith, who is currently out of the state, was reached late yesterday and notified of the court’s decision. In a statement of response he said:
“I am gratified by the decision of Judge Arterton that it is inappropriate to seek federal intervention in a matter of church life and governance. Non-interference by civil authorities in religious matters is a constitutional foundation of our nation and I trust that those members of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut who appealed to the courts will recognize the significance of this ruling and will seek to live in communion with their Bishop and this Church.”