Heart Attack Fells Bishop Creighton

Episcopal News Service. June 11, 1987 [87131]

WASHINGTON (DPS, June 11) -- The Rt. Rev. William Forman Creighton, retired bishop of Washington and a leader in the fight for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church in the 1970s, died May 20 after suffering a heart attack during treatment for cancer. He was 77.

A native of Philadelphia, Creighton was ordained by his father, also a bishop, in 1934 and served parishes in North Dakota, Minnesota and Maryland before being elected bishop coadjutor of Washington in 1959. He succeeded the Rt. Rev. Angus Dun as diocesan in 1962, and his term was marked by active growth of the diocese, including the establishment of a number of new churches.

When 11 women were irregularly ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia in 1974, Creighton urged that the 1976 General Convention be pressed to approve women priests. The following spring, he announced he would not ordain anyone -- male or female -- to the priesthood in his diocese until the 1976 convention acted, adding that if it did not approve the ordination of women priests, he would ordain a woman anyway.

But supporters of women priests who didn't want to wait ordained five women in Washington in September 1975 against Creighton's wishes. When the Rev. William A. Wendt, rector of the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, twice defied the bishop's orders not to permit a woman to celebrate the Eucharist in his church, he was placed on church trial, found guilty of disobedience and censured.

While also known for his work with other religious leaders here to overcome racial tensions in the 1960s, Creighton was criticised for maintaining membership in country clubs and academic organizations that excluded blacks. Initially defending his memberships on the ground that he was trying to work for change from within, he ultimately resigned.

Creighton was succeeded in 1977 by Bishop John T. Walker, the first black to hold that post. Walker had served as suffragan bishop under Creighton. From his retirement until the diagnosis of his cancer earlier this year, Creighton served as a parish priest at St. John's Church. He is survived by his wife, Marie-Louise, and three sons.