Conciliation process ordered between Massachusetts bishop, priest after Easter Vigil incident

By David Paulsen
Posted May 30, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] Massachusetts Bishop Alan Gates was investigated under the church’s Title IV disciplinary canons for removing a female priest’s clergy collar during a worship service, according to newly released information on the case, which has ended in a canonical process known as conciliation between Gates and the priest.

The priest, the Rev. Tamra Tucker, declined to comment for this story, saying she was not yet ready to speak publicly about the incident.

Gates also declined to comment when reached by Episcopal News Service through a diocesan spokeswoman. The Diocese of Massachusetts released its own statement on the outcome of the case: “We ask for the church’s continued prayers for everyone affected by the March 30 incident as we move forward in the spirit of reconciliation and with renewed commitment to ensuring that our churches are safe and nurturing places that uphold the dignity of every person.”

Gates previously released a written apology for what he described as “an instant of altogether misguided mischief” during the Easter Vigil held at Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston. The festive service is organized annually by The Crossing, an LGBTQ+-affirming congregation led by Tucker that is based at the cathedral. Several Boston congregations participate, including other Protestant denominations, with the churches’ members helping to act out Scripture lessons. A drag queen serves as emcee.

Gates and the collar

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul’s video of the Easter Vigil on March 30 shows the moment when Bishop Alan Gates removed the Rev. Tamra Tucker’s white tab collar before saying “just kidding.” Gates has since apologized for the incident.

The incident between Gates and Tucker happened toward the end of the service while they and others were standing at the altar. Video of the service shows Tucker momentarily forgetting the liturgical language for distributing Communion. After Tucker joked about having recently returned from a three-month sabbatical, Gates stepped up to her and snatched the piece of white tab collar from her neck, placing it on the altar. Gates could be heard saying, “just kidding,” to a visibly surprised Tucker.

“It was a devastating and demeaning act, which I regret with all my heart,” Gates said in his April 12 statement. “The Rev. Tamra Tucker is a valued colleague and fine priest whose leadership it has been my honor to affirm. It was not and would never be my intent to humiliate Rev. Tamra; however, that was precisely the impact of my action.”

The Title IV disciplinary case against Gates was not publicly revealed until late in the day May 29, when information was posted to an Episcopal Church webpage created this year on Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s direction to improve transparency in cases involving bishops.

The “current cases” page now includes Gates while specifying only that he was accused of “inappropriate behavior at Easter Vigil.” Information about the incident was provided to the intake officer for bishop complaints on April 5, according to the chronology, which does not say whether it was Tucker who first contacted the intake officer.

Under the church’s Title IV canons, a three-member reference panel receives the intake report and decides next steps. Curry, who serves on the reference panel in cases involving bishops, recused himself on April 29 after receiving the report in Gates’ case, and the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, the House of Bishops vice president, took his place.

On May 28, the reference panel referred the matter to conciliation, and Gray-Reeves issued a corresponding pastoral direction to Gates.

The conciliation process, as outlined in Canon IV.10, “shall seek a resolution which promotes healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among the complainant, respondent, affected community, other persons and the church.” A conciliator will be appointed to assist in that process.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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