“What I tried to do as best I can, by the grace of God, is to be faithful and obedient to that which I believe the Lord has called me to, even though it sometimes can be very difficult, and sometimes it’s not politically correct,” Love said.
[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. William Love, bishop of Albany, violated his ordination vows and The Episcopal Church’s canon law when he banned same-sex marriage in his diocese in 2018, a disciplinary hearing panel found in a decision issued late on Oct. 2.
The unanimous ruling, conducted under the church’s Title IV disciplinary process, refutes Love’s arguments – articulated by his counsel at a virtual hearing in June – that Love had not committed a canonical violation by prohibiting clergy from using the same-sex marriage rite approved for churchwide use by General Convention in 2018 because it was not a proposed revision to the Book of Common Prayer.
The decision does not stipulate what consequences Love will face. The panel will schedule another hearing for Love and the church to offer proposals and will then issue an order, which could involve suspending or deposing Love – essentially stripping him of his ecclesiastical authority. In a letter to his diocese, Love said that hearing “will be scheduled within the month.”
“While I am very disappointed and strongly disagree with the decision of the hearing panel … they have issued their judgement,” Love wrote. “Unfortunately, given the nature of this case, I have no reason to believe that appealing the hearing panel’s decision would result in any different outcome.
“Whatever the final outcome, it will severely impact not only me and the ministry entrusted to me as bishop of Albany, but it will also seriously impact the life and ministry of the diocese. I continue to pray that somehow God will use all of this for his purposes.”
Through the diocesan office, Love declined a request for additional comment.
The hearing panel is composed of Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely as president, Assistant Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson of the Diocese of Virginia, the Rev. Erik Larsen of the Diocese of Rhode Island, Melissa Perrin of the Diocese of Chicago and retired Southern Virginia Bishop Herman Hollerith IV.
At the June hearing, the panel heard arguments from representatives of Love and The Episcopal Church, who did not dispute the facts of the case – or the theological validity of same-sex marriage – but debated whether Love’s actions had violated church canon law. The church, represented by lawyer Paul Cooney, argued that Love, by directing his clergy to continue complying with a diocesan canon prohibiting participation in same-sex marriages, had violated General Convention Resolution B012, which stipulates that “provision will be made for all couples desiring to use these [same-sex] marriage liturgies in their local congregation.”
The Rev. Chip Strickland, who represented Love and also serves as the Diocese of Albany’s chancellor, argued that Resolution B012 does not hold canonical status and, therefore, Love had not committed a canonical violation. Strickland asserted that authorized trial rites like the same-sex marriage liturgy in question only have canonical status if they are proposed revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, and that B012 does not fall under that category.
The hearing panel disagreed, saying the “plain language of the resolution” makes it a proposed revision to the Book of Common Prayer, even if it lacks “the magic words” explicitly identifying it as such. B012, the panel said, is canonical and therefore mandatory. By ignoring this mandate, Love violated church canons and his ordination vows.
The panel also refuted Love’s argument that B012 is inconsistent with the Book of Common Prayer, which still defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman in its catechism and marriage rubrics. The preface of the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer, the panel said, only applies to that particular rite and not the additional rites authorized by General Convention, and the rubrics to the catechism describe it as “an outline for instruction” that is “not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice.”
Love’s 2018 pastoral directive banning same-sex marriages remains posted on the Diocese of Albany’s “Marriage/B012” webpage.
History of the Case
In 2009, General Convention passed several resolutions seeking to make the church more welcoming to LGBTQ people, including by developing liturgies for blessing same-sex unions. Those liturgies were approved for use by General Convention in 2012.
Then, in June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex civil marriage was legal in all 50 states. The 78th General Convention had just begun in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the bishops and deputies proceeded to approve the trial use of rites for same-sex marriage ceremonies that had been drafted by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.
Love was one of eight diocesan bishops who, leading up to the 79th General Convention, still refused to allow use of the trial rites in their dioceses. Proponents of marriage equality sought a compromise that would ensure that same-sex couples had access to the rites in all domestic dioceses, even if bishops were opposed.