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Diocese of Virginia court recommends priest be deposed for refusing to celebrate the Eucharist

The Title IV Hearing Panel of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia today released its decision that the Rev. Dr. B. Cayce Ramey violated his ordination vows and the Canons of The Episcopal Church and, as such, recommended that Dr. Ramey be deposed and thus “deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God’s word and sacraments conferred at ordinations to Priesthood and Diaconate.”

The Rt. Rev’d E. Mark Stevenson, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, issued the following statement in response to the Order:

I am grateful to the Hearing Panel for conducting a thoughtful and thorough review in accordance with the Canons of The Episcopal Church.

The Diocese of Virginia is dedicated to racial justice and healing and fully supports work to confront systemic racism – both in the past and present – within The Episcopal Church.

We recognize that the sin of racism has infected our hearts as Americans and as a Church since the time of our founding.  Dismantling racism for the sake of all people includes the hard work of naming our complicity in structures that disproportionately benefit White people.  It also includes the holy and life-giving work of combating racism.

The Rev. Dr. Cayce Ramey has been a vocal and effective leader in this area, and we are thankful for that aspect of his ministry.  However, the Title IV proceedings against Dr. Ramey center on whether or not he violated his ordination vows and are in no way related to his work in the area of racial justice.  It is my firm belief that Episcopal priests can and must work to make our faith a living reality by providing the sacraments to their people, as well as work to secure justice and human dignity.

Confronting racism is mission critical for me and for the Diocese of Virginia.  Like Dr. Ramey, I am deeply committed to ending racism. I too am frustrated with the pace of progress.  But I know that, in order for this change to be genuine and sustainable, it must necessarily take time.  We cannot wait, nor can we rush ahead.  We must change one person at a time.  As Bishop, I pledge to dedicate my ministry to racial justice and healing.  And I welcome every member of the Diocese to join me in this essential work.

The Rt. Rev’d Gayle E. Harris, Assistant Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia issued a statement regarding the Church’s work to promote racial justice and healing:

Through a number of programs and initiatives to address racism and promote racial justice and healing, the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia are changing.  We are not perfect.  Will we ever be perfect?  No.  We are human beings.

But I know this – we are a different Church and a different Diocese than we were a decade ago.  We elected a Black man as Presiding Bishop and on the first ballot, which is historic.  We had never elected a Presiding Bishop on the first ballot.  The President of the House of Deputies is a woman of color.  There are some 40 bishops of color in the House of Bishops.

The Episcopal Church has embraced the holy and life-giving work of combating racism. We are building a beloved community.  Yes, we have much work yet to do.  And we are committed to making change no matter how long it takes.

According to Title IV of the Canons, Bishop Stevenson now has 40 days to prayerfully consider possible disciplinary action to be imposed and is prohibited from pronouncing a sentence any earlier than 20 days after the Order was issued.  Either party may appeal within 40 days to the Court of Review, an elected body of The Episcopal Church consisting of Bishops, priests, deacons and lay people.

What is the issue at hand?

Dr. B. Cayce Ramey previously served as the Rector at All Saints Episcopal Church – Sharon Chapel. He is also an anti-white supremacy advocate. Since 2022, Dr. Ramey has refused to preside at celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. In accordance with Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church, proceedings were launched to determine whether he committed one or more violations of the Canons by this refusal, and, if so, to recommend an appropriate response.

Importantly, the Title IV proceedings relate only to the Canons that he vowed at his ordination vows to follow, and not to his social justice efforts.

How did the Title IV Hearing Panel rule?

The Hearing Panel released its Order on May 8, 2024, concluding that Dr. Ramey’s actions violated Title IV of The Episcopal Church Canons regarding Standards of Conduct, specifically:

  • Respondent having sent an email to Clergy and Laity that includes the statement that they “… are under no obligation to speak with [the Church Attorney] or not to speak with him either way” violated “Title IV.13.11(a) to at least the extent of committing conduct ‘contrary to the integrity of the proceedings.’” (PANEL Order on Church Attorney’s Motion for Sanctions, issued December 4, 2023; BOARD Decision on Notice of Appeal from Hearing Panel Order, issued January 15, 2024; and BOARD Decision and Order on Reconsidering Sanctions, issued February 12, 2024.)
  • Respondent refused to comply with a BOARD ordered sanction and thereby violated Title IV.4.1(d) by “failure to ‘… abide by the requirements of any acceptable … Order.’” (PANEL Decision and Order Pursuant to Canon IV.13,11, issued February 19, 2024.)
  • Respondent violated Title IV.4.1(c) by failure to “abide by the promises and vows made when ordained” to at least the extent to “be guided by the … leadership of your bishop” and “minister … sacraments of the New Covenant. …” (Book of Common Prayer, Ordination of a Priest, p.532)
  • Respondent violated Title IV.4.1(h)(8) by “habitual neglect of … the Holy Communion, according to the order and use of the Church.”
  • Respondent violated Title IV.4.1(h)(9) by engaging in “Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy” to at least the extent of having violated Title IV.13.11(a), Title IV.4.1(d), Title IV.4.1(c) and Title IV.4.1(h)(8).

The Order also included the disciplinary recommendation that Dr. Ramey be deposed.

What does it mean for a priest to be deposed?

According to Title IV of the Canons, when a Member of the Clergy is deposed, he or she “is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God’s word and sacraments conferred at ordination.”  Once deposed, an individual is no longer recognized as an ordained minister in The Episcopal Church.

When will Bishop Stevenson decide whether to uphold the Hearing Panel’s recommendation to depose Dr Ramey?

According to Title IV of the Canons, Bishop Stevenson now has 40 days to prayerfully consider possible disciplinary action to be imposed and is prohibited from pronouncing a sentence any earlier than 20 days after the Order was issued

When will Bishop Stevenson decide whether to uphold the Hearing Panel’s recommendation to depose Dr Ramey?

According to Title IV of the Canons, Bishop Stevenson now has 40 days to prayerfully consider possible disciplinary action to be imposed and is prohibited from pronouncing a sentence any earlier than 20 days after the Order was issued

Was it possible for Dr. Ramey to continue as an Episcopal priest while also working to promote racial justice and healing?

Only an ordained priest can preside at the celebration of Holy Eucharist; that is one of the most intrinsic duties and obligations of the ordination vows of a priest. When Dr. Ramey made the decision to not only stop receiving the Eucharist himself but also to not celebrate it for others – thereby creating an impediment for them to receive the sacrament – he made a decision that the Hearing Panel determined to be a violation of his ordination vows.

He could have requested to be released and removed from ordained ministry and become a layperson, and with that he would have been freed of the duties of a priest while continuing to work for racial justice. But he did not.

Why did the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia initiate Title IV proceedings against Dr. Ramey? Was there another way to resolve the dispute?

Both Bishop Goff and Bishop Stevenson spent months in conversation with Dr. Ramey trying to find a pastoral resolution, to no avail.

Ultimately, no Bishop has the authority to give a priest permission to violate the Canons.  This is true in every Episcopal Diocese, anywhere in the world.  The Bishop of Virginia had an obligation to uphold the Canons of The Episcopal Church.  The only course of action, in keeping with the rules that govern the Church, was to initiate Title IV proceedings against him.

What is the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia doing to advance the cause of racial justice and healing?

The Diocese of Virginia is dedicated to racial justice and healing and fully supports work to confront systemic racism – both in the past and present – within The Episcopal Church.  Confronting racism is a priority for the Diocese.  Dr. Ramey has been a vocal and effective leader in this area, and we are thankful for that aspect of his ministry.

We recognize that the sin of racism has infected our hearts as Americans and as a Church since the time of our founding.  Dismantling racism for the sake of all people includes the hard work of naming our complicity in structures that disproportionately benefit White people.  It also includes the holy and life-giving work of combating racism.

How are Dr. Ramey’s actions different than those who pushed The Episcopal Church to change by allowing the ordination of women and LGBTQ+ clergy or the celebration of same-sex marriage?

Past efforts to advance change, such as the ordination of women and LGBTQ+ clergy and the celebration of same-sex marriage in The Episcopal Church, were not organized as a refusal of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In fact, many of those acts of protest took place in the context of a celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Withholding the Holy Eucharist is the wrong way to address racism or to promote change.

Meaningful change has come in The Episcopal Church as a result of thoughtful engagement and discernment. It has taken time. And further change will require more effort.

The Episcopal Church embraces the cause of combating racism. We recognize that the sin of racism has infected our hearts as Americans and as a Church since the time of our founding. Dismantling racism for the sake of all people includes the hard work of naming our complicity in structures that disproportionately benefit White people. It also includes the holy and life-giving work of combating racism.

We are a different Diocese than we were a decade ago. But we have much work yet to do, and we are committed to making change no matter how long it takes.

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