Today Bishop Jack Iker sent this notice out to the clergy of the Diocese of Fort Worth:
“BISHOP CLARENCE POPE telephoned me this morning to let me know that Martha and he have returned to membership in the Roman Catholic Church, in full communion with the See of Peter. We certainly wish them well and want to uphold them with our love and prayers at this important time in their pilgrimage. They both gave ten years of faithful service and witness here in the Diocese of Fort Worth, and we give thanks to God for their continuing friendship and ministry. Bishop Pope wanted to assure me that he remains very attached to us and that his affection for the people of this diocese remains unchanged. Do join me in thanking God for both of these faithful Christians and praying His continued blessing upon them in the years ahead.”
This is the second time Clarence Pope has swum the Tiber. The first time was in October 1994. He had denied he was leaving The Episcopal Church right up until the day he left. When he made the announcement, he said he planned to seek ordination as a Roman priest. He told us he had known for the previous two years that he would go to Rome.
This led some here to question whether or not he’d earned his quite substantial salary as bishop by fraud for those two years.
The New York Times reported his 1994 announcement like this: “The 65-year-old bishop, who is married, said he had come to believe that the seat of Christian church authority had been divinely placed in Rome from the time of the Apostle Peter. He said that he had long prayed for a reunion of his church with Rome, but that possibility had foundered after the Episcopal Church, and the related Church of England, began ordaining women.”
It quoted Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning as saying, "It saddens me that this breach has occurred. I pray that this new chapter in his life will be an occasion for grace."
Ten months later, after Pope discovered that Rome would not recognize his episcopal orders, he returned to TEC, saying it was simply too painful to not have his orders recognized. The fact that he might be causing the same pain every time he did the same thing to every woman who was a priest or bishop in TEC never seemed to occur to him.
The first time around, Pope was officially received in a highly publicized event by Bernard Cardinal Law, Archbishop of Boston -- yes, the same Archbishop Law who did not cover himself with glory in the sex abuse cases in Boston.
Pope was received into the Roman church at St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church, a parish whose priest and congregation had been part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth until 1991, when they all became Catholics and their priest was re-ordained as a Roman priest.
Pope –that is Bishop Pope -- allowed them to keep the church buildings. It was no surprise Pope let the buildings go. He was very sympathetic to their wish to leave, which they attributed to anger over the ordination of women, the new prayer book and fears of what new heresy The Episcopal Church might commit next.
The Times also reported on Pope’s return to The Episcopal Church in 1995, quoting the parish priest’s son as saying the congregation “was stunned by Bishop Pope’s reversal. ‘They were very dismayed,’ he said. ‘I think many of us feel betrayed.’”
The same Times story reported that the week Pope announced he had returned to The Episcopal Church, “he publicly took communion from the hand of an Episcopal priest, saying in an interview that he had left the Catholic Church and abandoned plans to enter its priesthood.”
The article quoted him as saying “he had succumbed to a ‘growing unease’ about his original decision. His unease, Bishop Pope said, lay in his feeling that he could not give up his status as a bishop, which he would have to do to be re-ordained as a Catholic priest. He described the rank of bishop in mystical terms, saying it was "God-given" and not for him to surrender.
‘I could not shake the image of my consecration,’ he said, recalling the event at which his spiritual authority was signaled by a laying on of hands by his fellow Episcopalian bishops. ‘I thought I could lay it aside. I couldn't.’
“He also said he felt a gnawing guilt at having left his role as a leader of Episcopal traditionalists, who oppose the ordination of women as priests.”
That would be the Episcopal Synod of America, which morphed into Forward in Faith, North America.
His leaving to seek ordination in another denomination occasioned no action on the part of TEC, apparently because his resignation from the House of Bishops had not been acted on by the time he returned. Presiding Bishop Browning greeted him graciously, even though his behavior toward Browning had been anything but courteous.
When Browning and the Executive Council met in Fort Worth, Pope had made it plain that the local clergy were to boycott any worship or meeting with them. My husband failed to get the word, and showed up to greet Browning and the others – which he would have done even if he had gotten the word.
So now Clarence had gone to Rome again. Assuming it sticks this time, this will mean that every bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth except Jack Iker [we’ve only had three] has left The Episcopal Church – Donald Davies left to form his own breakaway church.
Jack Iker assures us he is not leaving.
But, then, so did Clarence Pope.