United Methodist Bishop Peggy Johnson said Thursday that she wanted to avoid putting the Rev. Frank Schaefer on trial for presiding over his gay son's wedding, but that her hands were tied by the Methodist Book of Discipline.
"I tried very, very, very hard to avoid this trial. I used all of the means I had to try to solve this," she said. "I did not prevail."
Her comments, made outside the Norristown office of the church's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, came as the bishop was presented with a petition signed by more than 25,000 people encouraging her to stop holding church trials.
This week, Schaefer, of Lebanon, Pa., was convicted by a jury of United Methodist ministers of breaking church law by officiating over his gay son's wedding in 2007 in Massachusetts. The jury sentenced him to a 30-day suspension and said that if he could not promise at the end of that time to uphold the church discipline he would have to turn over his credentials.
The petition also pertains to the fate of more than 30 Methodist ministers who jointly officiated Nov. 9 at a same-sex wedding in Philadelphia.
Johnson said Thursday that she was involved in a "supervisory review" with one of the ministers to gather information about the ceremony and to find clarity about that person's understanding of the covenant pastors make when they are ordained. She declined to discuss the process further.
Church spokesman John Coleman said complaints had not been filed against anyone involved.
The Rev. David Brown, a pastor at Arch Street United Methodist Church, where the ceremony took place, said he was aware of the supervisory review, but did not know what it entailed. Brown, who took part in the ceremony, said it did not concern him to be in uncharted territory.
"We didn't know what to expect going into it anyway. It doesn't give me more concern than I had when I decided I would participate," said Brown, adding that he expected some kind of review.
The Rev. Karyn Wiseman, who presented the petition Thursday to Johnson before about 25 gay-rights activists, said she hoped the bishop could avoid trials in those cases.
"We know this is a difficult task. We know you have endured much this week," Wiseman said. "And we ask that you hear this cry from your church . . . this cry for justice that says, 'O Lord, how long must we suffer?' "
Johnson, though, told the group, "The powers of bishops are not that great.
"You all think I'm so great-fully powered, but there's limits," she said, "and this is one of those places where I truly, truly tried."
Johnson did not elaborate on the steps taken to avoid this week's trial. The Book of Discipline outlines informal mediation steps that include talks between the complainant and the minister.
Johnson said the steps were followed in Schaefer's case, but that the pastor and the church member who filed the complaint, Jon Boger, could not agree on a resolution.