Presbyterian church panel dismisses charges against Pa. minister who performed gay marriage

Thursday, November 16th 2006, 6:17 am

By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Restrained applause broke the silence as Presbyterian leaders announced their decision to dismiss charges against a minister accused of breaking church law by presiding over the marriage of two woman.

Those among the 200 people who crowded into a rented hall Wednesday to support pastor Janet Edwards clearly approved of the decision, but their measured enthusiasm reflected the fact that the larger issue remained unresolved.

The church's Permanent Judicial Commission dropped the charges against Edwards because they were filed several days too late.

``This dismissal constitutes neither a vindication of the accused nor any finding with respect to the subject,'' said the commission in a statement read by Kears Pollock, the group's vice moderator.

Edwards said she was relieved at not having to face the prospect of discipline ranging from a rebuke to removal from ministry, but she also wants the dialogue to continue.

The constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reserves marriage for a man and a woman, although ministers may bless other types of ``holy unions.''

``Scripture teaches me that the heart of marriage is the love and commitment of the partners,'' not gender, Edwards said. ``I was ready to make the case for this at the trial.''

Edwards, who described herself as an advocate for gays and lesbians during her 28 years as a minister, presided over the June 2005 marriage of Nancy McConn, a retired computer software developer from Dallas, W.Va., and Brenda Cole, a clinical psychologist.

Robert Brown, who was on the church's prosecuting committee, said church officials are looking into whether charges can be refiled. He declined further comment, as did the Judicial Commission.

Stephen Paschall, a Presbyterian and Pittsburgh attorney who served as one of Edwards' lawyers, said he considered the case against her closed.

The Presbyterian Church, like other mainline Christian denominations, has been struggling to stay unified despite differences over whether the traditional biblical view condemning gay relationships should stand.

Presbyterians who support same-gender unions say the Bible's social justice teachings on inclusiveness should prevail over what they see as an outdated view of homosexuality.

About 100 people gathered at the Pittsburgh Golf Club on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the dismissal of charges with a luncheon featuring dance and prayer.

While many were happy for Edwards, some were also dissatisfied that the issue of same-sex marriage was not explored for the 34,000-member Pittsburgh Presbytery.

``I think it's convenient but incomplete,'' said Randy Bush, a Presbyterian pastor in Pittsburgh. ``I'm glad charges were dropped, but I know they're going to have to talk about it.''

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