PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Methodist pastor who was defrocked after officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding ceremony will be reinstated, said a church appeals panel that withdrew his punishment on Tuesday.
A nine-member appeals panel of the United Methodist Church said it had reversed its decision to remove Reverend Frank Schaefer from the pulpit of the Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
The church punished Schaefer, who has three gay children, by defrocking him in December after he refused to say he would never perform another gay ceremony.
At the time, Schaefer described the United Methodist church as “my church” and said it is deeply divided on the issue of gay rights. Schaefer has said that the rules outlined in the United Methodist Book of Discipline discriminate against gay people.
Schaefer was defrocked less than a month after he was found guilty in a church trial of violating church law by performing the 2007 ceremony for his son Tim.
Schaefer’s lawyer, the Reverend Scott Campbell, said the pastor would not return to the congregation in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, but was otherwise uncertain of his plans.
Schaefer was expected to speak later on Tuesday at a press conference at a Methodist church in Philadelphia.
The ruling on Tuesday does not clear the way for other same-sex marriages in the denomination, Campbell said.
The appeals panel upheld a church decision to suspend Schaefer for 30 days last year, but then found that defrocking him was punishing him for what he might do in the future instead of what he had done in the past.
“I think it’s a wonderful decision, very carefully done... It upholds the law of the church,” Campbell said.
The ruling also mandated that Schaefer be given back pay from Dec. 19, 2013, when his 30-day suspension ended and the decision to defrock him was made.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson