Paul Hewitt examines the pre-history of the present crisis in Pennsylvania
I serve in a parish in the Anglican Province of Christ the King not fifteen miles from the renowned Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. From 1976 to 1978, I was the curate at Good Shepherd, under Father George Rutler, on the heels of a three year curacy at St Faith’s, Wandsworth, in London, under Canon Geoffrey Neal.
The current situation at the Church of the Good Shepherd, with Father David Moyer’s deposition, shows that gnosticism is totalitarian. This gnosticism is the denial that Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, and that there is a gnosis, or knowledge, about how we are saved, apart from him. The gnostic bishop, Charles Bennison, has, without trial, deposed a faithful, orthodox priest, Father Moyer. One can now more clearly see that it is well-nigh impossible to be a Catholic inside the Episcopal Church.
The backward and abysm of time
Going back to the late 70s for some historical depth shows how starkly the Catholic Faith is silhouetted against the gnostic horizon. The prospects for authentic Catholic witness within the Episcopal Church are even dimmer than would at first appear, for Father Moyer is not the first priest to be deposed at Good Shepherd, but the third. Father Rutler and I were the first two, one generation ago. What is happening to Catholic priests today is part of a twenty-five year old, systematic effort to marginalize and eliminate all resistance to the gnostic programme. Gnosticism, in all its forms, is of necessity totalitarian and leads to the culture of death. Since gnosticism is based on a lie, it can brook no dialogue or different point of view, lest it collapse when the lie is exposed. Gnosticism is the illusion that human nature can be re-defined apart from Christ, and so clustering around the ordination of women arc closely related issues of divorce, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, gender-neutral scripture and liturgy, and the elimination of God the Father.
The birth of a sect
The campaign to ‘marginalize and eliminate’ Catholics began even before 1976, when the ordination of women to the priesthood was approved by a wafer-thin margin at the Minneapolis Convention. In the late 60s, liberal dioceses like Pennsylvania were getting parishes to sign their properties over to be held in trust by diocesan holding corporations.
The Sunday after the Minneapolis Convention, Father Rutler stood up in the pulpit at Good Shepherd. He said that the Bishop of Pennsylvania, Lyman Ogilby, had forfeited all claims of moral and spiritual leadership over us, by voting for a gnostic form of ministry and supporting abortion. By abandoning the Faith once delivered, he had abandoned his flock. He was now the administrator of a gnostic sect. He could therefore no longer visit Good Shepherd, nor could the parish recognize him or his diocese. The parish could no longer send money to the diocese, and would only bring in one of the remaining 37 faithful, orthodox bishops. None of this was to be negotiable or to appear on the agenda of any vestry meeting. Father Rutler was speaking in the Name of God, as a prophet.
One month later, in October 1976, one of the remaining faithful bishops, Stanley Atkins of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, visited Good Shepherd to preach and confirm. Since I was assigned to take him to and from the airport, I was able to ask him what he thought of the flying bishops concept, of a possible conscience clause, and most significantly, of a non-geographic ‘Tenth Province’. (The Episcopal Church has nine loosely-defined ‘provinces’, of which very little was ever made, and we could be the tenth.) He replied that all these things were, or would soon prove to be, mere pipe-dreams. The gnostics had won the show, hook, line and sinker.
The people at Good Shepherd trusted and supported their Rector, although at this time not all of them would take in all be had said and done, for he had, by fiat, separated us from the diocese. The parish grew and flourished, and in September 1977 Father Rutler was a key-note speaker at the St Louis Congress. A great many people at Good Shepherd signed the Affirmation of St Louis. In January 1978 Father Rutler gave the sermon at the Denver Consecrations, at which the Archbishop of what is today the Province of Christ the King, Robert Morse, was consecrated bishop. Father Rutler’s sermon is a pulpit masterpiece, one of the most significant ever preached in our times. It was after the Denver Consecrations that some people at Good Shepherd became restless about our affiliation with what was to become the Province of Christ the King, a ‘province’ that would eventually include the entire United States.
In March of 1978 the Rt Revd Albert Chambers, retired Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, visited Good Shepherd to preach, confirm, celebrate and bless the new organ. We call Bishop Chambers the ‘Elijah of the Episcopal Church,’ since he was the one member of the House of Bishops who stood up to be the chief consecrator of the Denver Consecrations. By this time the faction at Good Shepherd which questioned our affiliation had become organized, and at an April vestry meeting voted to give 50% of the parish assessment to the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Father Rutler and I had decided that, should this go through, we would resign on the spot, which we did.
Looking back on our resignations, I believe we made a strategic error of the first magnitude. We should have stayed, and kept the parish moving forward into its new affiliation. Father Rutler was the recognized leader of the entire northeast of the country, and orthodox Episcopalians were looking to him for leadership. Rosemont was the base from which we should have gone on to organize the entire Northeast, from Boston to Washington, to form the ‘Diocese of the Bos-Wash Megalopolis.’ But Father Rutler could not bear to split the parish, and we resigned, to continue with the (then) Diocese of Christ the King, and start a new parish in Rye, New York, the Church of the Advent. We went there together, I to be the Rector, and he to be the National Officer for Evangelism. He would eventually become a Roman Catholic priest, ‘to prepare a place for us’.
After we left Rosemont, we were both deposed, without trial, for ‘abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church,’ even though we had made it quite clear that we were affirming our ministries as Episcopal priests by placing ourselves under an orthodox bishop. Some of the lay leadership at Rosemont intervened for us and pleaded our cause, but to no avail. Our position was that we were starting nothing new, but continuing as faithful Episcopalians who could not accept the new gnostic ministry and those who perpetrated it. From God’s point of view, the body that voted to have priestesses was starting a new gnostic denomination, the ‘General Convention Church.’ We had to part company, to shepherd the faithful away from what Father Rutler described as an ‘ecclesiastical Cbernobyl’ into green pastures and into alignment with the rest of the Catholic world.
1978 was a year of terrifying crisis for us all, as dozens of parishes were hauled into court, and scores of clergy were deposed. Some lawsuits were won and many were lost. A wave of lawsuits, depositions, blacklisting and persecution began which would continue, wave after wave, to this day. One priest in Virginia died of a heart attack in his sacristy as his family was being evicted from the Rectory. The light of orthodox witness was being snuffed out and crushed throughout the Episcopal Church. Our witness in the United States was based on the conviction that we must not seek a political settlement with the new gnostic lie, but establish a clean break, a quarantine for our people, and the freedom to network intensively with the rest of the Catholic world, Anglican, Roman, Orthodox and the remnant in Scandinavia.
There are obvious similarities and differences with what is happening at Good Shepherd today. For a difference, Father Moyer has worked on a scenario in which it would be obvious that faithful witness will sooner or later be thrown out. ‘We didn’t leave, we were evicted.’ In our Province of Christ the King we made the point the other way around – we stayed, and the gnostics left us. In the Province, we have always held out the hope that we were the scouts, and the faithful remnant still within the system would be the wagon trains.
Life on the Titanic
But the Titanic has nearly sunk, and not much more than the life-boats remain. Just to skim the surface, the crisis in the Philadelphia metropolis looks like this: St John’s, Hunttngdon Valley, under Father Philip Lyman, left its properties behind to join the AMiA. St James the Less, Philadelphia, which seceded from the Diocese of Pennsylvania two years ago and where Father David Ousley is Rector, is at this writing in court. All Saints, Wynnewood, where Father Eddie Rix is not allowed to be at the helm, is gravely threatened by Bishop Bennison. St Michael’s, Birdsboro, was recently taken over and dissolved by a neighboring bishop, and we are starting a new parish there with the same name. Other parishes have gone to ground. It may not be a coincidence that the heat of battle centers in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is where the terrible devastation began in 1974 with the illegal ordinations of 11 women. The place of breakdown and wounding may well be the very place where God wants to reveal new life and purpose. The key to the Battle of the Northeast, where most Episcopalians live, is Philadelphia.
In all the various responses faithful Anglicans throughout the world have made to the crisis, the powerful common thread that links us is that the Holy Spirit is utterly breaking us all, so that he can humble us, cleanse us, and anoint us anew. He wants us to be supple in his hands. We are all becoming more Madam. We are being prepared for a new phase in our vocation as Anglicans, to be a catalyst in revealing the essential unity of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is grinding up and pulverizing the old structures, and writing ‘Ichabod’ over them. He is leading us off into a new alignment in which the magnificent contributions of our forefathers and all the genius of Anglicanism can be appreciated. The whole Church is being led, to gather around the consensus of the undivided first millennium. This consensus is the mind of Christ for his body, proclaimed in the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.
Paul C Hewitt is rector of the Parish of the Transfiguration, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.