Conscience Statement Approved by Bishops

Episcopal News Service. October 3, 1977 [77326]

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Members of the Episcopal Church who disagree with or repudiate the 1976 General Convention action allowing women to be ordained priests or bishops need not regard themselves as "disloyal" Episcopalians, the Holse of Bislhps said at its Sept. 30-October 7 meeting here.

Neither are such persons to be regarded as disloyal by fellow church members who hold opposite views.

The conclave adopted, by an overwhelming standing vote, as "the mind of the House" a statement of conscience which affirms that "no bishop, priest, or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner" for opposing this change -- or for supporting and implementing it.

The statement set forth, in its original form, respect for the informed consciences of persons who are not convinced that women can be priests. Presiding Bishop John M, Allin declared here in his opening address that he himself holds this position.

Before the matter came to a vote, an amendment made it apply also to supporters of the ordination of women. Bishop George M. Murray of the Central Gulf Coast offered the amendment, saying he had been subjected to harsh criticism after he ordained a woman priest.

Two attempts were made to include in the document words which might be construed as a re-affirmation of Convention's action. Both failed.

The statement commends respect for people holding opinions contrary to Convention's action, the avoidance of any kind of pressure "which might lead a fellow Christian to contravene his or her conscience," and a posture of patience while seeking "further penetration of the truth."

"Anglican comprehensiveness," it says, "distinguishes between what must be believed by a Christian and what cannot be clearly demonstrated from basic Christian sources" and speaks of the need to be aware of the Holy Spirit's leading into truth.

Late in the 40-minute debate, three bishops who oppose women's ordination acclaimed the document.

First to speak was Bishop Clarence Haden of Northern California, who attended the September 14-16 Congress of separating Episcopalians in St. Louis and has been somewhat identified with their attitudes.

"I am hopeful," he said. "I see this document as a means of healing... as reassuring to those who say, 'You have betrayed us. "'

Bishop William C. R. Sheridan of Northern Indiana termed the statement "on the whole quite magnificent. It will help us and our people greatly. "

Added Suffragan Bishop Robert Terwilliger of Dallas, "It is a danger to assume that resistance to the ordination of women is primarily found" among those who have separated themselves from the Episcopal Church. "The basic resistance is still within the Church," he said, observing that the House's action will help maintain unity.

Bishop Terwilliger envisioned the vote as reassuring to Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, and Orthodox, who will "know that those of us who see things the same way they do can remain within this Church in peace."

The speaker who questioned the wisdom of the document was Bishop Thomas Fraser of North Carolina, who cautioned that its adoption could pave the way for other conscience statements on other divisive issues. He warned that the House of Bishops might appear to be "abdicating leadership."