Will the bishop wear white?

Will the bishop wear white?

Genevieve Kineke points out a story that was inevitable once the Episcopal Church started ordaining women as bishops: A female bishop in Rhode Island is getting married and that presents all kinds of problems. What it illustrates is how priorities can get mixed up.

Bishop Wolf said she hasn’t picked out a wedding dress as yet but plans on wearing a white A-line gown rather than her usual Episcopal garb.

“I think that on this one day, being a bride is more important than being a bishop,” she said. [emphasis added]

On the one hand, it should be true that a woman’s biggest day is when she becomes a bride, but consider her other role. A bishop should be a spiritual father to his flock, and I suppose if you’re going to allow a woman to be bishop you’re saying she’s a spiritual mother. Can you imagine a single mother saying that on her wedding day being a bride is more important than being a bishop? Should anything ever supersede motherhood apart from one’s personal obligations toward God?

Add on top of that the mixed up imagery we’re presented with, the bishop simultaneously standing in persona Christi as the Bridegroom of the Church and being the bride herself. It’s just wrong. Genevieve adds:

Instinctively, she recognises her distinct vocation within marriage, but it runs counter [to] the reality charade [sic] she undertakes in her presumed vocation to the priesthood.

The Catholic Church has always made a firm distinction between a celibate priesthood (simply a discipline) and the all-male priesthood (a dogma). I found her dilemma fascinating, and her choice bodes well for the man she’s marrying, though problemmatic (as ever) for the flock she leads.

I think this case illustrates well why a celibate male priesthood, especially a celibate episcopacy, is so important for the Latin Church.

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  • It is also interesting to note that even with a non-celibate priesthood, it is impossible sacramentally for a man to marry after ordination.


  • It also illustrates why an Episcopal “bishop” is just a manager of a non-profit organization with life tenure.

  • I am not so sure the bishop is entirely off-base here. In the western tradition, of which Episcopalianism is a part, the couple are ministers of the sacrament of matrimony. As such, the bishop’s sacramental role in the ministration of that sacrament is as a bride, not as a bishop. Bp Griswold is ministering as ecclesiastical witness, and should be vested as such.

    Now, it would be lovely if all couples would wear albs while marrying each other (assuming they are both baptized)—imagine that refutation of the Wedding Industry. PErhaps too radically prophetic for many, including Episcopalian bishops?

  • But Liam, married clergy, in effect, now have two spouses. Would not this be counted as polygomy?

    I’m not using polygamy in the sense of the law of the land (it being illegal) but in sharing your deepest intimacies with more than one person? What about “one man, one woman”? Adam for Eve, Christ for the Church?

    You are correct in saying that spouses “confer” the sacrament on each other, as Christ does for the Church, but the problem, obviously, is, as I said, married clergy would be polygamists.

  • I do not know whether or not “Bishop” Wolf will wear white, and I do not know what Gene Robinson, the Episcopal “bishop” of New Hampshire, wore at the marriage to his “significant other.”

    Otis Charles, the retired Episcopal “bishop” or Utah and former Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts (sharing the same facilities with the Weston Jesuit School of Theology), married his “partner,” Felipe Sanchez Paris, at St. Gregory’s of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, wearing his clergyman suit (with the distinctive lavander shirt worn by Episcopal “bishops”) along with a flowered wreath and some garland.  One can view the “wedding” pictures at his website at otischarles.com

  • jenb wrote:
    But Liam, married clergy, in effect, now have two spouses. Would not this be counted as polygomy?

    Don’t push the spousal concept too far.  The Church accepts the Eastern practice of married clergy as completely legitimate, so the Church will not accept any interpretation of the priesthood that would count married clergy as disloyal to their marriage or their ordination vows.

    Now, if you want to make an argument about marriage after ordination as an abuse, that could be something to consider.

  • “On the one hand, it should be true that a woman’s biggest day is when she becomes a bride…”

    Just curious:  is it also true that a man’s biggest day is when he becomes a groom?

  • We don’t consider Episcopalian bishops to be priests,do we? I don’t know that much about their beliefs, but do they say their ministers act “in persona Christi?” I’m not for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church as priests or bishops, but I have no prob with female Protestant ministers & I have a lot of respect for Bishop Wolf’s ministry to the poor. (“Down and Out in Providence” was her inside story of homelessness.) And why shouldn’t she dress like a bride on her wedding day? Even our priests dress according to the occasion.
    As to the adultery thing, the Church doesn’t teach that as a reason for celibacy in the priesthood. If they did they’d have to go back in history and de-canonize some saints. And if married Catholics have two spouses, then so did the Blessed Mother, who was married to the Holy Spirit FIRST, and always.

  • Domenico,

    I didn’t think it was a silly question and was surprised at your answer.  I would have thought that you would hold that a woman’s biggest day is when she becomes a mother and that a man’s biggest day is when he becomes a father.


  • While parenthood is indeed a big day, it depends on marriage (or at least it should), which is a sacrament, and while you only marry once (apart from being widowed), you can (and hopefully will) have many child born.

    Bottom line: Parenthood is just one part of the sacrament of marriage and getting married is the first step in becoming a mother or father. The two ends of marriage are procreative and unitive.

  • OK, let me try this one.  I would have thought that you would hold that a woman’s biggest day is when her child is baptized (sacrament).  Same for a father.  And if the two ends of marriage are procreative and unitive, does it not then follow that a childless marriage is somehow incomplete?

    The point that I’m inartfully stabbing at is that I’ve read so many postings and comments here that define marriage by its vital link to child bearing/childrearing.  By vital I mean that I think you would agree with the statement that marriage (as a defined term)cannot be limited to merely the committment of two persons to exclusively love and care for each other.  That for it to be a marriage there has to be an additional element that has to do with bearing/raising children – actually doing it, promising to do it or being open to doing it, etc.  That the unitive element of marriage is not the whole story. 

    If that’s the case, it just then doesn’t follow for me that a person could say that their biggest day in their life is the wedding day.

  • RC you are correct. Thanks for the reminder. It is a discipline, not a dogma (though a good discipline for obvious reasons). Thanks.

  • Rick: There is such a thing as overanalyzing a statement, which I believe is an occupational hazard for lawyers.

    How about “a women’s biggest day to that point in her life until she has a child and baptizes him or her some day”? It’s a bit of a mouthful though, so I think I’ll just stick with the shorthand.

  • To slice the cheese even thinner, the biggest day of a man or woman’s life is when they open themselves up to the creating of new life. That would be marriage, since the marital union by definition follows and new life can start.

    A couple who remains childless but were open to the gift of life are just as completely united as the couple who have lots of kids.

    It’s that openness that’s so thrilling, and important, and profound.

  • I am trying to clarify a few things here, though I suspect I may muddle them even more, but…

    On an emotional level, children may provide more of an emotional high and their birth may stand out in the mind as a bigger life changing event, but from a strictly theological point of view the marriage is the decidedly more significant act.  The first duty of a spouse and parent is as a spouse.  The role of spouse is sacramental, the role of parent is not.  (That is not to say there is no duty to children, nor that meeting a spouses needs must take precidence in every instance, nor that one must always pander to a self centered spouse to the detriment of children.) 

    Additionally, the idea that marriage is sacramentally impossible after ordination is an error no one has (at least explicitly) corrected.  True, a validly ordained deacon/priest/bishop cannot validly marry due to the promises currently required at the time of ordination, but again this is a matter of discipline, not of doctrine.  Were the church to cease requiring the promises or grant dispensations from them there is no bar to subsequent marriage inherent in ordination.

    All that aside, this argues well for our discipline requiring celibacy or marriage before ordination as practiced in eastern catholic churches.  Who wants clergy distracted by dating?  Who wants to be part of a church wondering about the pastor’s sex life?  ECUSA’s ability to self destruct is just facinating in a warped sort of way.

  • Therese,

    You’re not slicing the cheese to thin – you’re exposing the nut of the matter.  Thanks.  Your explanation makes perfect sense to me and seems consistent with and supportive of Catholic teaching on the matter.  (There’s also a poetry to your explanation that I find rare and inspiring.)  smile


  • DGS,
    Unfortunately, the way things stand now, the laity is more tempted to “worry” about the priest’s sex life. I recently heard of a local priest who had an affair with a married woman and my first thought was “Whew, at least it was a woman.”
    I absolutely do not and CAN not worry or even think about a priest’s potential sexual attractions in his presence, though, for which i am very grateful. I have been blessed in the priests I know. However, I still have to hear, even from a distance, the gossip and speculation, and that feels awful.
    As for Bishop Wolf, i’m delighted to be free to wish her every happiness. Why do we have to worry about whether she’s following OUR rules? She’s not Catholic, and she’s not a criminal. (Besides, the more women bishops they ordain, the more Catholic converts we get! smile)