July 9, 2018

Two Complaints about Bishop McConnell

On the whole, I have been pleasantly surprised at Dorsey McConnell’s performance as Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh. Most especially, I was pleased with the way he handled moving the diocese to accept the blessing of same-sex unions. He created a process that allowed people of the diocese to discuss their views toward homosexuality in small meetings, after which he authorized priests to proceed with blessings. It was not transparent how the outcome of the meetings led to the bishop’s ultimate decision, but I think the fact that fewer people participated than had been anticipated suggested that, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the matter was less controversial than might have been thought. Of course, the exit of parishes supporting deposed bishop Robert Duncan altered the philosophical balance of opinion in the diocese.

Recently, however, Bishop McConnell has taken two actions of which I heartily disapprove. On June 27, he sent e-mail to “Diocesan and Parish Leadership” announcing that he had suffered a mild stroke and would have to reduce the burdens of his office. The body of the message was the following:
Dear Friends,

Recently I awoke in the middle of the night to find a numbness in my right arm and a confusion in my speech. (I could think of exactly what I wanted to say, but the words did not come out in any way resembling spoken English). The symptoms resolved within a few hours, and I have not had a recurrence.

It has taken some time for my doctors to find out exactly what happened, but in the last few days the picture has become clear. I am one of 24% of the adult human population walking around with a small hole between the atrium and ventricle of my heart, known as a patent foramen ovale or PFO. Ordinarily this would be of little concern; however, in extremely rare instances, a clot can travel through the hole and pass into the brain. This is apparently what happened to me, causing a small stroke in the left hemisphere, near the "language center,” briefly affecting the sensation in my right arm as well.

The source of the clot that caused it is still a mystery. There is no evidence of it occurring in my legs, my carotid arteries, or anywhere else in my vascular system. I have no history of stroke in my family, no evident plaque anywhere, and no other indication of risk. Since the event, I have been on a regimen of one low-dose aspirin per day, which— along with compression socks when I fly— will remain a part of my ordinary life, though my doctor may eventually recommend a prescription blood thinner.

All of this has come at some cost to my stamina. I am reviewing my calendar and work habits, and have asked for the assistance of my staff to help me achieve a more regular schedule. I will curtail my international travel, as well as my commitments to the National Church, and may limit the number of events I am able to attend within the Diocese on any given day. Please rest assured, however, that I generally feel well and energetic.

Betsy and I ask for your prayers. Please know you are always in ours.

Faithfully your bishop,

(The Right Reverend) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.
VIII Bishop of Pittsburgh
June 27, 2018
When a leader has a serious negative health event—if his schedule and life are being affected, the event described is serious—it is not only leaders who have to be told; so do ordinary citizens. If the governor or president suffers a stroke, people expect to know about it. This is not the first time Bishop McConnell has chosen only to inform diocesan leaders about matters affecting the diocese. The bishop asked for the prayers of the message’s recipients. Are the prayers of diocesan laity of no consequence? When diocesan news is distributed, the question to be asked is whether laity need not be told. Transparency should be the default, even when it is assumed that laypeople will not be interested. In fact, laypeople should be encouraged to care about the diocese, which is facilitated to letting them in on what is going on.

Mercifully, Bishop McConnell did not instruct diocesan leaders to keep the information in his message confidential. My own rector and other clergy I know about explained the bishop’s letter in church the Sunday after it was sent. Clearly, they thought the people needed to know about the bishop’s health.

My second complaint against Bishop McConnell is rather more complex, but I won’t attempt to give a full explanation here. Just days before the opening of the 79th General Convention, the bishop, along with Bishop Nick Knisely of Rhode Island and Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island, offered a resolution for consideration by the convention. Somewhat misleadingly titled “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church,” B012 was intended to be an alternative to Resolution A085, which had been proposed by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. (The Living Church, prior to the beginning of the convention, offered a succinct review of A085 and B012. You can find that review here. Note that the links to the respective resolutions in that piece point to the resolutions as marked up by the convention as of the time they are accessed. A later Living Church article can be found here. As of this writing, the revised B012 has passed in the House of Deputies and is being sent to the House of Bishops for consideration.)

Essentially, A085 would have given same-sex marriage rites prayer book status and made the liturgy available to all congregations interested in using. B012, on the other hand, continued the trial status of such liturgies indefinitely. Significantly, it provided for bishops not approving of same-sex rites to require congregations wishing to use them to request DEPO (Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight), allowing same-sex marriage under the oversight of a more accepting bishop. (There are currently eight diocesan bishops who have disallowed same-sex marriages in their dioceses.) Such a procedure, which was invented by Episcopal bishops in a different context and never embraced by the General Convention, is ill-defined and cumbersome. Moreover, it makes same-sex marriage in The Episcopal Church less than fully embraced and makes diocesan bishops the princes who determine the religion of their subjects, a notion more feudal than democratic.

The Episcopal Church is, and should be, ruled by the General Convention, and individual bishops should not be able to veto procedures adopted by the convention. I was very disappointed by Bishop McConnell for his support of B012 and for that of Bishop Knisley as well. (I count Bishop Knisley as a friend; I do not know Bishop Provenzano.) Bishops out of step with the General Convention have been the source of much mischief in recent years, and B012 was an invitation to continued mischief.

As it happens, the matter of same-sex marriage collided with the other big topic at this year’s General Convention, namely prayer book revision. As a result, in a House of Deputies legislative committee, A085 was put aside and B012 was put forward with massive changes. The indefinite trial status remains, pending prayer book approval, but the diocesan bishop veto has been eliminated. It is to be hoped that the House of Bishops can accept this seemingly reasonable compromise.


  1. Susan Russell has provided more insight into the B012 currently under consideration on her blog.

  2. The version of B012 finally adopted by the General Convention can be found here.

  3. A belated critique:

    You write: "Moreover, it makes same-sex marriage in The Episcopal Church less than fully embraced and makes diocesan bishops the princes who determine the religion of their subjects, a notion more feudal than democratic."

    -The church is not a democracy. Rather, "tradition is the democracy of the dead," as Chesterton says. Not everything is an open question, and not everything can be altered by the majority vote of a tiny section of the Body of Christ. A friend of mind used the analogy that it is like a state trying to amend federal laws.

    -Also, we are an "Episcopal" church, not a "Congregationalist" church, which means that bishops are the Chief Liturgical Officers in their dioceses. I am quite surprised you do not understand this. Bishops are not mere confirming-and-ordaining-automatons who do nothing but rubber stamp congregational decisions, they are the spiritual leaders and primary teachers of those committed to their care. Every sacramental act in a diocese is an extension of the bishop's ministry, so there has to be a "sacramental firewall" (as +Martins puts it) such as DEPO, between the progressive parish and their orthodox bishop, as well as the rest of the diocese, since most of the people of these dioceses agree with their traditional bishop's stance.

    -There are more than eight dioceses who do not permit the new marriage rites. That list of eight does not count the dioceses of Province IX. Also, there are in fact ten domestic dioceses, two of which were omitted for some odd reason. These are West Texas and Haiti (not a part of Province IX, as many mistakenly assume it to be).

    -I don't look at this blog frequently, and so I can't say what your opinions are usually like, but I think this particular one shows remarkable unsophistication and represents an extreme low-church position.

    Nevertheless, I accept with the final version of B012. It preserves the bare minimum of what we need to honestly call ourselves "episcopal."


Anonymous comments are not allowed. All comments are moderated by the author. Gratuitous profanity, libelous statements, and commercial messages will be not be posted.