Bishops Urged to Reconsider Ordination Plans

Diocesan Press Service. July 25, 1974 [74199]

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The Rt. Rev. John M. Allin, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has asked three bishops of the church to reconsider their decision to ordain 11 women to the priesthood in Philadelphia on July 29.

The 11 a. m. ceremony is scheduled to be held in the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a parish located in a black ghetto in Philadelphia.

Conducting the ordinations will be Bishop Daniel Corrigan of Denver, former suffragan bishop of Colorado, and then, until his retirement, head of the office of domestic missions of the national Executive Council; Bishop Robert L. DeWitt, resigned bishop of Pennsylvania and now publisher of an independent magazine; and Bishop Edward R. Welles of Manset, Me., retired bishop of West Missouri.

Bishop Allin sent telegrams to the three bishops, in which he said, " I am compelled to beg you to reconsider your decision to ordain" the 11 women deacons "without diocesans' request or the consents of standing committees. "

Bishop Allin said that while he respects the " personal convictions " of the three bishops, he must exercise his " responsibility to obey and uphold the canons of this church, and equally my commitment as pastor to strive for and maintain faithful and cooperative relationships among all the members of the House of Bishops. "

Bishop Allin said that the Rev. John B. Coburn, New York City, president of the House of Deputies of the General Convention, and "the presidents of the several provinces " of the church joined him "in this plea" to the bishops to reconsider their decision.

In a telegram to the 11 women, the Presiding Bishop said, " For the sake of the unity of the church and the cause of ordination of women to the priesthood I beg you to reconsider your intention to present yourself for ordination before the necessary canonical changes are made."

The 11 women issued a statement in which they said that though their ordination is "irregular, " they "believe it to be valid and right. "

" Our primary motivation, " they said, "is to begin to free priesthood from the bondage it suffers as long as it is characterized by categorical exclusion of persons on the basis of sex. "

In an open letter, the three bishops said that the "ruling factor" in their decision "is our obedience to the Lordship of Christ, our response to the sovereignty of His Spirit for the Church. "

Their action, they said, is intended to be "a proclamation of the Gospel -- that God has acted for us, and expects us, in obedience, to respond with appropriate action. "

Since 1970 women may seek ordination to the diaconate, the lowest of the three orders of ministry in the Episcopal Church. Proposals to admit women to the orders of priest and bishop failed to gain a concurrent majority of clerical and lay votes in the House of Deputies at the General Conventions of 1970 and 1973, and were thus declared defeated.

The House of Bishops, however, had considered the matter at its meeting in the fall of 1972 in New Orleans, and had endorsed, as the " mind of this House," the principle of the ordination of women as priests and bishops by a vote of 74 yes, 61 no, and five abstentions.

Bishop Lyman Ogilby, successor to Bishop DeWitt as head of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, said that though he favors the ordination of women to the priesthood, he has "not given consent to or approval for having this ordination in the Diocese of Pennsylvania." He said that he does "not believe this is the way God would have me proceed with this cause at this time. "

The women scheduled to be ordained are: The Rev. Merrill Bittner, 27, Webster, N.Y.; the Rev. Alla Bozarth-Campbell, 27, Minneapolis, Minn.; the Rev. Alison Cheek, 47, Anandale, Va.; the Rev. Emily Hewitt, 30, Newton Centre, Mass.; the Rev. Carter Heyward, 29, New York, N.Y.; the Rev. Suzanne Hiatt, 37, Philadelphia, Pa.; the Rev. Marie Moorefield, 30, Topeka, Kan.; the Rev. Jeannette Piccard, 79, Minneapolis, Minn.; the Rev. Betty Schiess, 51, Syracuse, N. Y.; the Rev. Katrina Swanson, Leawood, Kan., daughter of Bishop Welles; and the Rev. Nancy Wittig, 28, Newark, N.J.

[Contact the Archives for Texts of telegrams from Presiding Bishop to 3 bishops and 11 women, Text of An Open Letter from Bishops Corrigan, DeWitt, and Welles and Text of. statement by 11 women deacons -- Ed.]