Federal judge denies appeal of priest ordered to leave parish

November 22, 2001|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A federal judge denied yesterday the appeal of a conservative Episcopal priest who is fighting to remain in a Prince George's County parish despite attempts by the bishop of Washington to oust him.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte refused to reverse his ruling last month ordering the Rev. Samuel L. Edwards to immediately cease his ministry at Christ Church in Accokeek.

Messitte ruled last month that acting Bishop Jane H. Dixon, who filed suit against the priest and the church vestry that hired him, acted within her authority as the chief religious authority in the diocese when she refused to accept Edwards' call to serve as rector of the parish.

Edwards, former executive director of a national traditionalist organization, has railed against the Episcopal Church, USA as "hell-bound" and the "Unchurch" for its liberal policies on the ordination of women and tolerance of homosexuality.

Dixon, who said she feared that Edwards would lead the parish out of the Episcopal church to join with other traditionalist parishes, ordered him to leave Christ Church in May. When Edwards refused to leave, Dixon filed the federal lawsuit.

The attorney for Edwards and the Christ Church vestry filed an appeal and a motion for a stay of the judgment that ended the priest's ministry and ordered him to move out of the rectory in 10 days.

The judge later amended his order, allowing Edwards and his family to stay until Nov. 30.

In yesterday's opinion, Messitte denied the motions for appeal and the stay, writing that Edwards and the Christ Church vestry had not shown any likelihood that they would prevail on the merits of their appeal in a higher court.

Messitte wrote he did not believe that the public interest would be served by granting a stay of his decision, "because by entering a stay, the court would stand against every other court which has ever addressed the matter."

"These courts have held that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical in structure and that the bishop is its highest authority," he wrote

Charles H. Nalls, attorney for Edwards and the Christ Church vestry, said he will appeal the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

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