Bishop Cole Defers Trials

Episcopal News Service. April 21, 1976 [76143]

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- In a letter to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, the Rt. Rev. Ned Cole, Bishop of the diocese, said he was deliberately deferring the trials of the Rev. Betty Bone Schiess and the Rev. Walter N. Welsh until after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church next September.

"An ecclesiastical court, designed for fair and just disciplining of clergy, is neither the proper, nor an adequate, forum for the resolution of an issue so vital and important as the ordination of women to the priesthood and the Episcopate," the Bishop said.

The possibility of ecclesiastical trials resulted from the findings of the Committee of Investigation appointed by Bishop Cole last August to examine the events leading up to and including "A Service of Affirmation Celebrating the Anniversary of the Reverend Betty Bone Schiess" at Grace Church, Syracuse, July 29, 1975. The committee found that the Rev. Betty Bone Schiess, "not being a Priest had performed certain acts in the Eucharist only a Priest shall perform" and "acted contrary to the direction of the Bishop of the Diocese not to officiate at the Eucharist at Grace Church, Syracuse, July 29, 1975." The committee also charged that the Rev. Walter N. Welsh, Rector of Grace Church, Syracuse, "gave permission to Betty Schiess to officiate as a Priest in the celebration of Holy Communion without sufficient evidence of her being duly licenced or ordained so to minister in this Church."

In his letter to the clergy Bishop Cole said, "I believe that an ecclesiastical trial in the days between now and our General Convention at Minneapolis, Minnesota, this fall would not be in the best interests of our Church in this Diocese or beyond its borders. The risk is too great that such a trial would lead only to further polarization of the views now held within the Church. Whatever the outcome of a trial no one can realistically predict any general acceptance of its verdict; there would follow only delight on one side and dismay on the other. Nothing suggests that such a trial would contribute constructively to the deliberations in Minnesota. In light of these circumstances I cannot responsibly commit our Diocese to the inescapable expenditure of considerable Diocesan resources of people, money and attention.

"It is my desire that nothing transpire in this Diocese which might impair General Convention's ability to resolve the issue of the ordination of women. I hope no irritated anger, no championed cause, no dramatic departures, no assumed fear, no attempted juridical justice will prevent the Episcopal Church from constructive deliberation and then effective resolution of the issue of ordination of women to the priesthood and the Episcopate.

"For many years I have strongly favored the ordination of women; our Diocese has several times overwhelmingly taken the same position. It has been my equally firm view, however, that it is only our General Convention which can properly determine the issue. Such authority is not vested in the individual diocese, to be exercised either by pronouncement of its Bishop or by judgment of its ecclesiastical court. My present decision reflects this same conviction.

"My decision has been unanimously supported by my council of advice -- the Standing Committee of the Diocese -- my Chancellor and members of the House of Bishops with whom I have consulted.

"After next September's General Convention, I will turn to the canonical procedures provided for in acting on the Articles of Presentment. However, I now disallow the second count in the presentment against the Reverend Betty Bone Schiess -- that she acted 'contrary to the direction of the Right Reverend Ned Cole, Bishop of the jurisdiction.' I did not direct her not to participate in the service at Grace Church on July 29, 1975. My plea to her was, 'I ask you not to go through with this planned service.' Accordingly I have concluded that the facts charged in the second count of her presentment are not such as to constitute an offense on the part of the Reverend Betty Bone Schiess and I therefore dismiss that count.

"My actions in all matters concerning this issue have been of pastoral concern, reconciling persuasion and loyalty to the Church. I have acted because of my concern for the persons, being faithful in facing issues and committed to the mission and ministry of the whole Church. I hope this decision to defer will be seen in the same light of reason and as consistent with my commitment to Christ and his Church."