PHILADELPHIA — Churches throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania have been ordered to read a letter written by the bishop to explain the suspension of a conservative rector who opposes the ordination of women and homosexuals.
The five-page letter, which Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. ordered read in the diocese's 162 parishes last Sunday, said the Rev. David Moyer was suspended because of his defiance of church canons.
"Because he and I differ in our approaches to the place of women and homosexual persons in the church, as well as on other theological and pastoral questions, some have erroneously depicted my inhibition [suspension] of [Moyer] as prejudicial with regard to those of a conservative ideology," Bennison said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Moyer is a national leader of conservative Episcopalians and was named bishop of Forward in Faith, a 19,000-member national conservative movement that opposes the ordination of gay and female priests, which the group calls incompatible with biblical teachings.
Bennison has called Forward in Faith's naming of its own bishops "clearly schismatic." Moyer also has been criticized for refusing for years to present candidates for confirmation to the bishop as required by canon law.
Moyer also had refused to allow Bennison and his two predecessors to visit the Church of the Good Shepherd, Bennison said in his letter.
The letter said Moyer, who was barred in March from acting as pastor, will be defrocked on Sept. 4 if he fails to come into line with church canons.
Neither Bennison nor diocesan spokeswoman Meg Cave returned calls. Moyer's attorney, John H. Lewis Jr., said the priest was considering a defamation lawsuit because of the letter.
"This goes far beyond liberal and conservative. A true liberal tolerates diversity, and this is nothing more than an attempt to stamp out the opposition," Lewis said.
He said Moyer did not bar Bennison from his church but instead asked him to affirm church doctrines including "the teachings of Scripture as to human sexuality" before visiting.
Lewis also said his client has been denied a church trial to address the allegations, as provided under canon law.