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The Episcopal Bishop of Bethlehem: Whistle Blower?

The Episcopal Bishop of Bethlehem: Whistle Blower?


By David W. Virtue
July 1, 2011

When news broke this week that Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori had received into the Episcopal Church a known pedarist priest from the Roman Catholic Church in 2004 when she was Bishop of Nevada, all hell broke loose.

One bishop who was particularly incensed was Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem who blasted the Presiding Bishop saying in bold language, "Now let's be serious. When 815-level lawyers threaten and cajole diocesan bishops not to reveal multiple sex-abuse cover-ups at the highest level lest former leaders be embarrassed, what can we expect, and why do we look down on the RCC?

"As a rector I had to follow a priest who was simply passed along by another bishop, and as a bishop have had the same experience with a staff member who was protected by his bishop, with catastrophic results here.

"On paper, we are a one-strike church, but in reality, too many people have walked. 815 (national church headquarters) refused comment on this story with principled-sounding obfuscation, which essentially tells it all, doesn't it? There is no more transparency at 815 than previously, as some commentators know to their pain."

Now you should know that Bishop Marshall is a pretty agreeable bishop who doesn't normally rock the boat. First of all, he is not some randy fundamentalist bishop running off at the mouth. He is a TEC team player, albeit a quirky one. One might say he is something of a mixed bag that puts him on the moderate to liberal wing of the Church, but by no means a revisionist.

He's been open to a handful of traditionalist parishes, such as St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Whitehall Township. In addition to siding with the worldwide communion on the issue of homosexuality, St. Stephen's congregation disagrees with the ordination of women and uses a worship form that predates the format nearly all other Episcopalians have used for the last 28 years. He has allowed the small group of Anglo-Catholics to live at peace in his diocese and has not tried to foist liberal priests on to them when the rector moves on.

When the Rev. Eric L. Bergman, 33, rector of the Church of Good Shepherd, resigned saying that his conscience could no longer permit him to stay in The Episcopal Church, he commented, "What Bethlehem Bishop Paul Marshall teaches on particular issues differs so greatly from what I believe and teach, I cannot in good conscience offer this support without being complicit in what I am convinced is the dissemination of falsehood. Nor can I reasonably be expected to request such support from you [the parish]."

Marshall responded saying, "I have had the privilege of teaching Fr. Bergman throughout his seminary career in New Haven and then of ordaining him here in Bethlehem. I know him to be a man of honor and integrity, and know that he did not come to his points of view or his point of decision suddenly or on a whim. We have been in constant communication during his process of sorting out his next steps.

"He sought my counsel on when and how to communicate his decision to his parish. He is entering a period of deep discernment, and at my suggestion and request, has not resigned his orders in the Episcopal Church, so that all doors remain open to him."

On the other hand, Marshall voted to depose Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan when he came up against the powers that be. He has also written a book extolling the joys of lesbian love.

In 2009, Marshall established "interim measures" to allow clergy to bless same-gender relationships. "I am not generally broadcasting this decision yet (although I suspect the word will be quickly out) because it is up to the clergy of a place to decide if they are interested, and then to take it up within the parish system," Marshall wrote in his letter at that time.

The bishop wrote that clergy must tell him about their decision to bless same-gender unions, along with assuring him that "at least a substantial number of the vestry are in agreement, or at the very least understand what is involved with the rector or priest-in-charge's decision in making this change ... [and] how (or whether) you are communicating this decision to the parish."

At the same time, Marshall is unwilling to antagonize conservatives by sanctioning blessings of same-sex unions.

"I have asked the clergy not to act unilaterally," he said, adding he believes that no same-sex unions have been blessed in the diocese.

More recently, he defrocked an Episcopal priest for his lavish lifestyle. Fr. Gregory Malia was defrocked after the "New York Daily News" described him as "a big spending, champagne swilling, club-hopping priest from the coal fields of Pennsylvania" who frequents trendy Manhattan clubs "in the wee hours and spends thousands on top shelf liquors, doling out five-figure tips like silver dollars." Exit Malia.

Marshall called for the resignation of PA Bishop Charles Bennison over Bennison's refusal to step down when he was exposed for covering up his brother's sexual abuse of a minor. He also voted No on a Northern Michigan candidate for bishop who had decidedly Buddhist leanings.

For Marshall, that all-or-nothing approach to homosexuality by leaders of the communion's 38 member churches runs counter to the way he's shepherded the 14-county Diocese of Bethlehem's 67 parishes. Even while he's pushed for greater inclusion of gays, Marshall also has refused to cut off and cast away congregations that believe homosexual acts violate Scripture.

Like many leaders in the U.S. church, Marshall sees acceptance of gays as an outgrowth of the Gospel's message of justice. In 2001, he ordained a gay priest, the Rev. Patrick Malloy, to serve at Grace Episcopal Church in Allentown.

Marshall went on to vote yes in 2003 to the consecration of the homosexual Gene Robinson to be the Bishop of New Hampshire.

If consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, Marshall would not get the award.

A typical fudge statement of his goes like this, "The Church, as it ponders scripture, tradition, in the light to the best reason it can muster, is itself the judge of the Church's latitude in doctrine and practice. It defines that latitude from time to time, seeking to welcome the broadest possible expression of the basics of the faith. Core doctrines are maintained most notably by unambiguous reference in liturgy and catechism."


So when the bishop lashed out at PB Jefferts Schori, he hinted darkly in an e-mail to VOL that he might just blow the whistle on the leadership of the church and write a tell all article, possibly even a book, with his staff, on the secrecy, duplicity and sexual shenanigans of the church's hierarchy.

"My anger has subsided for the moment, and I come to the office incredibly sad," he told this writer. Then he added, "As you know, I think we are doomed as a church unless our life is vigorously centered in the Gospel and see our mission in only those terms that are consistent with it."

Now he's talking like ACNA bishops who actually believe TEC IS doomed and have left to form a more perfect union with their evangelical Anglican Global South counterparts. (Three TEC bishops crossed the Tiber to Rome.)

Marshall was particularly incensed by Jefferts Schori's obfuscation and non answer when reporters sought answers about her role in the Bede Parry affair. He wrote, "[we got a lot of] principled-sounding obfuscation, which essentially tells it all, doesn't it? There is no more transparency at 815 than previously, as some commentators know to their pain."

The national church's communications director referred questioners to the Diocese in Nevada who is in no way responsible for Jefferts Schori's behavior. This angered Marshall.

Will he now blow the "lack of transparency" lid off the national church with tell all tales of sexual cover ups in line with what leaders did in the Roman Catholic Church which have produced enormous negative consequences for generations of priests?

Whatever he knows, he should know that on July 1, the presiding bishop's new metropolitan powers kick in that over-ride a diocesan bishop's authority and powers allowing her to do whatever she likes. (God help us all.)

If he tells all, no liberal or revisionist media or liberal Episcopal blog or the HOB/D listserv can scream at him for his lack of inclusion or diversity. He is one of them, though with a conscience he can no longer suppress. 815 leaders now wait for the other shoe to drop.

The truth is the ecclesiastical mongoose is already in the TEC HOB hen house and all he needs is an opportunity to strike. The Presiding Bishop might just have given him that opportunity.


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