Episcopal Bishops Oppose Catholic Music Group’s Use of New York Seminary

Since late 2023 the Catholic institution has been using the Episcopal seminary’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd in New York City.
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd in New York City. (photo: Alon Adika / Shutterstock)

Episcopal bishops in New York state are vocally opposing a Catholic music group’s usage of a seminary facility in New York City, citing concerns over the purported position of the group’s founders on LGBT issues.

Episcopal News Service (ENS), the official news wire of the Episcopal Church, reported this month that the seven bishops who serve the Episcopal dioceses of New York and Long Island “are publicly opposing the potential long-term lease of General Theological Seminary’s property and facilities” to the School of Sacred Music (SSM).

SSM is “grounded in the Roman Catholic tradition,” the institute says on its website. It offers “support, development, and inspiration to all who value sacred music,” including through a professional choir.

The school “engage[s] and inspire[s] students and professional church musicians, members of the clergy, congregations, faith communities, and all interested members of the public,” it says. 

Since late 2023 the Catholic institution has been using the Episcopal seminary’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The music school meets twice weekly there for vespers. 

ENS reported this month that the seminary is considering a “long-term lease” with the Catholic organization, one that would see the School of Sacred Music undertaking renovations of the Episcopal campus and paying the seminary an annual rent. 

In their letter, the Episcopal bishops said they were “concerned by the lack of full acceptance of the LGBTQ stance” of the founders of SSM, as well as “the lack of transparency in its funding.” 

“We recognize the difficult financial situation … with the General Seminary campus,” the bishops wrote. “We are also making difficult decisions about the future use of sacred spaces. It’s important to make decisions that align with our mission and values. Human dignity is not negotiable.”

It was not immediately clear what the bishops in their letter meant by the “lack of full acceptance of the LGBTQ stance” of the school’s founders. Spokespersons for the New York and Long Island Episcopal dioceses did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. 

Though SSM lists relatively little information about its structure or organization on its website, the Episcopal news wire reported that the group is a subsidiary of the Ithuriel Fund, a “major donor” of which is Colin Moran, the president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. That institute is the publisher of the Catholic magazine First Things. 

ENS reported that “some of the articles published by First Things” under “Moran’s leadership” advocate “particularly conservative views toward human sexuality,” such as a recent article arguing that Christians should not attend gay wedding ceremonies. 

Moran could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. 

In a statement last month, meanwhile, the seminary’s president, Ian Markham, suggested the proposed lease with the Catholic group was necessary for the Episcopal institution to remain solvent. 

The seminary “faces significant revenue and cash flow challenges,” he wrote. “In fiscal year 2023, GTS’ operating expenses were $7 million, against an annual income of $4.3 million. The seminary has no funding source for any emergency capital expenditure, or deferred maintenance, which is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars.”

The seminary’s board “gave its unanimous backing to enter into negotiations with SSM at its November meeting and for these negotiations to continue at its recent February meeting,” he wrote. 

“Any agreement it reaches with the SSM will be consistent with the seminary’s mission and respect GTS’ core commitment to inclusivity,” Markham said in the statement. 

On Wednesday, meanwhile, seminary spokeswoman Nicky Burridge told CNA that “nothing has changed” regarding the plan for the Catholic group to use the property in both the short term and the future.

“[N]egotiations continue with SSM, meanwhile, SSM continues to have a short-term rental agreement to use parts of the Close, such as the Chapel of the Good Shepherd,” she said.

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