Bishop: No trial for N.Y. cleric who officiated at gay wedding

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree said he was grateful that the church decided not to prosecute him.
The Rev. Thomas Ogletree said he was grateful that the church decided not to prosecute him. (JOHN MINCHILLO / AP)
Posted: March 13, 2014

Months after a Pennsylvania clergyman was defrocked in a similar case, the leader of the United Methodist Church in the New York City area has canceled the ecclesiastical trial of a minister who officiated at his own son's gay wedding.

Bishop Martin McLee, who oversees 500 churches in New York and Connecticut, on Monday also announced a moratorium on church trials, opening the door for pastors to officiate at gay weddings without fear of reprisal.

McLee said he hoped that avoiding a trial for the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, an 80-year-old retired pastor and a former dean of Yale Divinity School, would foster dialogue and healing. But church conservatives said it would inspire more acts of rebellion that will deepen the divide over LGBT rights and push the church closer to a schism.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon was put on trial in November 2013 and defrocked the next month after a member of his congregation found out he had officiated at his own son's 2007 wedding to a man and then filed a complaint to the church's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

Ogletree said Schaefer's case had no impact on his desire to avoid a trial.

"I just discerned and prayed and journeyed with what was before me," he said Tuesday.

Schaefer, who is appealing, said that he saw Monday's decision as a victory but that he was saddened that his own case had such a different result.

"There is that question of fairness," he said.

Ogletree officiated at the marriage of his son Thomas Rimbey Ogletree to Nicholas Haddad in October 2012 in New York City.

A marriage announcement ran in the New York Times the following day. Shortly after, two clergymen - the Rev. Randall Paige of Christ Church in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., and retired pastor Roy Jacobsen - filed a complaint with the church.

Paige said in a statement Monday that he and Jacobsen did not agree with the McLee resolution that allowed Ogletree to avoid a trial if he promised to take part in a public forum. Paige said that the action would alienate conservative members.

To avoid the trial, Paige's and Jacobsen's agreement wasn't needed. That's because the church - as opposed to the complainants - was the victim in the case, and the pastor whom McLee appointed to represent the church as counsel agreed to the terms under which the trial was avoided.

McLee said that he picked the church counsel based on his integrity, not his stance on LGBT rights.

Bishop Peggy Johnson, who oversees the Philadelphia-area Methodist Church and has said she believes the church's rules are discriminatory, said Tuesday that she was filled with "jubilation" that Ogletree's trial could be avoided.

But she reiterated that a trial could not have been avoided in Schaefer's case because the parties did not agree on a resolution.

"Even though some of the particulars [between the cases] were the same, the personalities and the politics and the way things are handled in conferences, you just can't compare them," she said. "I believe we both followed the rules as we saw them."


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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