Charges dropped against Connecticut bishop
Title IV Review Committee clears Smith
The Episcopal Church’s Title IV Review Committee has decided to drop all charges brought against Connecticut Bishop Andrew D. Smith by the rectors and vestries of six diocesan parishes.
“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,” Smith said in a diocesan statement released April 13. “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 rectors and some of their vestry members had filed the charges against Smith, alleging violations of canons as outlined in portions of Title IV. The charges stemmed from the rectors’ disagreement with Smith’s decision to support the 2003 consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and their refusal to accept Smith’s attempts at reconciliation including delegation of another bishop to them, according to the diocesan news release.
“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,” Smith said in his April 13 statement. “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 Connecticut Standing Committee determined that each of the six rectors had “abandoned the communion of the Church.” They communicated their finding to Smith, who inhibited Mark Hansen, one of the rectors, in June 2005, based on the recommendation and deposed him six months later.
The formal ecclesiastical charges by the six rectors and some of their vestry members were submitted to then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. He forwarded the charges to the Title IV Review Committee for further investigation.
The Review Committee is composed 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 ruling mailed on April 11 to attorneys for the diocese and for the rectors and vestry members, according to the diocesan news release. There is no provision for appeal.
At about the same time as the ecclesiastical charges were filed, the rectors and vestry members of those churches also filed suit against 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 U.S. 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.
Most, but not all, of the 174 congregations in the diocese, which comprises the entire state, agree with Smith’s decision regarding Robinson and the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life and ministry of the church, according to the diocesan news release. Two parishes in the diocese have accepted oversight from a delegated bishop through Smith’s office.
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