Bishop Takes Action Against Breakaway Episcopal Priest - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Bishop Takes Action Against Breakaway Episcopal Priest

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) -- A retired priest who started a breakaway congregation in Elizabethtown has been ordered by an Episcopal bishop not to do ministry or present himself as an Episcopal priest.

But the priest, the Rev. Kent Litchfield, said he would continue in ministry.

Litchfield retired as pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabethtown in June, and the next month helped form Holy Apostles Church. The new congregation, meeting at a theater just blocks from his old church, is "doing very well" and drawing about 80 people weekly, many of them former Christ Church members, Litchfield said.

Litchfield contended that Bishop Ted Gulick of the Diocese of Kentucky is the one who has broken faith with the Episcopal Church and its global partner, the Anglican Communion, by supporting a gay bishop's ordination and other liberal causes.

"I'm retired. I have a new bishop," said Litchfield, who has aligned with a conservative Anglican bishop in Bolivia. "He doesn't like that, I'm sure. But he's got to live with himself, and I don't have to worry about him."

Gulick said Episcopal and Anglican rules clearly state that only one bishop oversees a diocese and that other bishops cannot interfere.

"You don't get to choose who your bishop is," Gulick told The Courier-Journal of Louisville. "Your bishop is the chief pastor of the geographic area in which you reside."

Gulick issued his order Aug. 4 and notified Litchfield and officials in the Episcopal Church, but he did not announce it to the public.

A conservative organization, the American Anglican Council, called attention to his action recently when it issued a statement supporting Litchfield.

Under civil law, Gulick cannot stop Litchfield from leading the new congregation, but his action puts the Episcopal diocese on record as not being associated with it or with Litchfield's ministry.

Gulick's action is similar to those of other bishops -- including Stacy Sauls of the Diocese of Lexington -- toward priests who have broken with the Episcopal Church over liberal trends.

The Anglican Communion has faced a growing international crisis since the 2003 ordination of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire. Anglican bishops in several countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, have denounced that action and have declared they are in broken or impaired communion with the American church.

A blue-ribbon Anglican commission last year also criticized the Episcopal Church but urged foreign bishops to not interfere in American dioceses.

Gulick said he acted on the recommendation of a diocesan advisory committee, which concluded that Litchfield had "abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church."

He said he had tried to accommodate Litchfield by, for example, allowing a conservative bishop from Tennessee to conduct a confirmation service last year at Christ Church rather than going himself. Gulick said his action, known in church law as an "inhibition," is the mildest form of discipline available and that he can immediately rescind it if Litchfield agrees to return to the church.

Gulick said a smaller congregation continues to meet at Christ Church under an interim minister.

Litchfield said that although he has left the Episcopal Church, he has stayed faithful to the Anglican Communion, and he said Gulick has adopted "revisionist" views on homosexuality and other matters that contradict ancient church teaching.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)