Righter, Walter C. 1923–
Righter, Walter C. 1923–
(Walter Cameron Righter)
PERSONAL: Born October 23, 1923, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Richard (a steel company executive) and Dorothy Mae (Bottomley) Righter; married January 26, 1946; wife's name Marguerite (divorced, February, 1988); married Nancy Talburt, August 22, 1992; children: Richard, Rebecca. Ethnicity: "English/Scotch/German." Education: University of Pittsburgh, B.A., 1948; Berkeley Divinity School, M.Div., 1951, D.D., 1972; Iowa Wesleyan University, D.C.L., 1982; Seabury Western Seminary, D.D., 1984.
CAREER: Ordained Episcopal priest, 1951, consecrated bishop, 1972; lay missioner at a church in Rector, PA, 1947–48; priest in charge of Episcopal churches in Aliquippa, PA, 1951–54, and Georgetown, PA, 1952–54; rector of Episcopal church in Nashua, NH, 1954–71; bishop affiliated with Diocese of Iowa, near Des Moines, 1972–89; Diocese of Newark, Newark, NJ, assistant bishop, 1989–91; interim rector of Episcopal church in Ridgewood, NJ, beginning 1991; Diocese of Massachusetts, assistant bishop, 2000–03. Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., member of executive council, 1979–85.
A Pilgrim's Way, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: Walter C. Righter is a retired Episcopalian bishop who made history when he was tried for heresy, or false teaching, by the Episcopal Church. In the autumn of 1990, Righter, then an assistant bishop with the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, ordained into the Episcopal diaconate Barry Stopfel, an openly gay man. In January of 1995, a small group of Episcopal bishops levied charges against Righter in ecclesiastical court. The most conservative faction in the church had been at odds with Righter since the 1970s, when he had voted for the ordination of women and publicly supported the ordination of gays and lesbians. Righter became a champion of gay rights after his public comments on homosexuality earned praise from a conservative in the church. "I recognized my error at once," Righter recalled to Florence King of the National Review.
At the time of Righter's ordination of Stopfel there were no clear rules on gay ordination, Righter explains in A Pilgrim's Way. There was a "conscience clause" produced by the House of Bishops that gave bishops the option of refusing to ordain women, but the question of gay and lesbian ordination remained open-ended. There had been ordinations of gays and lesbians in the past, and in 1994 the Episcopalian Church had forbidden discrimination in ordination based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, Righter was accused of heresy in a process that Righter, in an online chat through Barnes and Noble Booksellers, called "irrational." The trial was orchestrated by bishops who were still upset over the church's 1994 decision on gays and lesbians in the Episcopal priesthood. The accusing bishops "were trying to manipulate the House of Bishops," said Righter, "into giving them what the general convention of the Episcopal Church had refused to give them." Righter's accusers, "not understanding the tides of history and focusing only on their fears, were attempting to stop the efforts of the church at inclusivity." Righter was inspired to write a book about the experience for two reasons. First, the heresy trial was only the second such trial in the history of the Episcopal Church, and Righter felt that a book "should be written by the person who was accused." Second, "a whole portion of the population of the gay and lesbian people were being scapegoated by the people charging me. Justice called for the story to be told so that people could see the machinations involved."
A Publishers Weekly critic called A Pilgrim's Way "a riveting account of the church's attempt to hold a modern-day heresy trial."
Righer told CA: "My primary motivation for writing is to share insights gained through one third of a century as a bishop and more than one half of a century as a priest. My work is particularly influenced by people I have known [who demonstrate] great personal integrity and spiritual strength. I like to put ideas together, and the heresy charges gave me an opportunity to write a book. Before that I liked to write op-ed pieces for the Des Moines Register."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Righter, Walter C., A Pilgrim's Way, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Advocate, June 9, 1998, p. 18.
Booklist, June 1, 1998, p. 1678.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1998.
National Review, May 18, 1998, article by Florence King, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, May 11, 1998, review of A Pilgrim's Way, p. 64.
Barnes and Noble Booksellers Web site, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (November 2, 1998).