John Rather of The New York Times has written an intriguing roundup about the protracted conflict between Bishop Orris G. "Jay" Walker of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island and some of his clergy. (I apologize that the story is now available only in the Times' electronic archives.) Walker survived a national controversy beginning in late 1996, when Penthouse magazine accused Lloyd Andries, a priest in Walker's diocese, of being sexually involved in a sex ring with young Brazilian men. An investigation by church leaders concluded that most of the allegations in the article were untrue or unproven, although it confirmed that Andries was sexually involved with two Brazilian men who told their story to writer Rudy Maxa.
The latest battle involves what religion writers might expect when a bishop fires a priest: charges of abused power, racism, indignation on both sides -- and rumors of an HIV-positive bishop. Say what?
Rather eases that bombshell into the story through Diane Porter, a former employee of the Episcopal Church's national headquarters who now works for the diocese and defends Walker vigorously:
Ms. Porter said remarks about Bishop Walker's health, including his alcoholism and what she said was an oft-repeated rumor that he was H.I.V.-positive, were "sour grapes."
"You try being a 61-year-old black man in the United States of America with some authority," she said. "Your authority is constantly being challenged having to deal with issues of white privilege all the time. I am a black woman, so I have had plenty of experience with it."
Bishop Walker said he had publicly acknowledged that he had a problem with alcohol and had been in a program offered by Alcoholics Anonymous. He declined to comment on whether he was H.I.V.-positive.
Most of Rather's story focuses on the conflict between Walker and the Very Rev. James J. Cardone, from whom Walker demanded a resignation as dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City. The bishop made his demand on June 10, only two weeks after the death of Cardone's 22-year-old son:
The dean was also in mourning for his son, Petty Officer Second Class Benjamin J. Cardone, 22, who died only a month before Bishop Walker's surprise announcement on June 10. The son was serving on a Navy frigate stationed in Japan; his death is being investigated as a possible suicide.
Last week, as some parishioners called upon him to reconsider, Bishop Walker, 61, said in an interview that his decision was final and had been made some time ago because of worsening relations with Dean Cardone. But he said he was aware that the congregation was deeply concerned.
The timing, he said, was regrettable. "I certainly did not feel good about that," he said.
Cardone told Rather he has no interest in being reinstated, despite the efforts of some cathedral leaders:
Dean Cardone said he would not resume his post under Bishop Walker. "He goes or I go," he said.
There should be no mystery about who will prevail in that showdown.