Beliefnet News

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

(RNS) The high court of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has issued a landmark decision that unequivocally bars noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy and halts recent attempts to compromise on ordination standards.
Ministerial candidates in the PCUSA are required to be in faithful heterosexual marriages or remain celibate, though a compromise reached in 2006 was thought to potentially loosen those standards.
No such loosening is allowed, ruled the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the 16-member high court of the PCUSA, on Feb. 11.
The “fidelity and chastity” requirement is “a mandatory standard that cannot be waived,” the court ruled.
While candidates for ordination may disagree with those standards, they are still required to obey them, the court said. The standards themselves can only be changed through a constitutional amendment at a biennial General Assembly, according to the court.
In 2006, Presbyterians passed an “authoritative interpretation” of the constitution that many saw as a compromise, which would allow gay and lesbian candidates to declare a conscientious objection, or “scruple,” to the ordination standard. The local presbytery, or governing body, could then decide whether the candidate’s scruple touched on an “essential” of the faith.
In January, Lisa Larges, a lesbian, used the “scruple” policy to pursue a path to ministry in the San Francisco Presbytery. Later that month, Minnesota Presbyterians approved the re-ordination of a gay man, Paul Capetz, who left ministry eight years ago because he would not take the celibacy vow.
“The San Francisco case does get stopped in its tracks,” said Jack Haberer, editor-in-chief of The Presbyterian Outlook and a member of the task force that brokered the ordination compromise. But since Capetz’s ordination had been reinstated, someone would have to seek to defrock him, Haberer said.
Capetz said the ruling left him “baffled.” He said he would not relinquish his ordination and that he had been certain the new “scruple” policy opened the door to gay and lesbian clergy.
“Everyone I talked to saw it that way. We thought a new way had opened up,” Capetz said Tuesday (Feb. 19).
Conservative Presbyterians, however, were pleased by the ruling.
“We can now rest assured that our standards for ordination in the PCUSA continue to reflect the clear teaching of Scripture and the plain meaning of our constitution,” the Louisville, Ky.-based Presbyterians for Renewal said in a statement.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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