“High Priestess of Abortion” to Exit Episcopal Divinity School

A controversial Episcopal seminary dean is stepping down following several years of friction with faculty and disagreement about the future of the school.

A controversial Episcopal seminary dean is stepping down following several years of friction with faculty and disagreement about the future of the school.

Dean Katherine Hancock Ragsdale announced her decision not to continue as dean and president of Episcopal Divinity School in an e-mail this morning.

“I write to tell you that I have informed EDS’s board of trustees of my intent not to request a renewal of my contract when it expires at the end of June 2015. Further, I have asked them, if possible, to expedite the process of naming a successor so that I may explore new opportunities,” Ragsdale wrote. “Of course I will do everything I can to insure a smooth transition.”

Ragsdale’s announcement was immediately followed by a statement from the seminary’s board.

“President Ragsdale undertook a deep and real challenge when she began her tenure at the helm of EDS, including arriving at a difficult time in the wake of the sale of iconic property to secure the institution’s financial future, and during a time of challenge in the broader field of theological education,” the board wrote. “With this leadership transition, we ask all members of our community to offer their gracious prayers to our departing President and to contribute to a welcoming and prayerful community for our next leaders.”

Ragsdale’s infamous rallying cry “abortion is a blessing” declared in front of a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic in 2007, raised her profile beyond Episcopal Church circles and earned her the nickname “The High Priestess of Abortion” by conservative detractors for her enthusiastic backing of unrestricted abortion rights.

Ragsdale has served on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America and as past chair of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a group founded to provide religious cover for abortion-on-demand and which counts the Episcopal Church among its affiliates.

Monday’s announcement follows two especially rocky years at EDS in which Ragsdale faced a cancelled governance assessment project in which faculty protested that they were shut out of planning. In 2013, Ragsdale was given a vote of “no confidence” by faculty, the kind of action that she waved off as “a dime a dozen.”

“It’s just a way of doing business, especially for places that are facing the need to potentially make significant change,” Ragsdale asserted in an interview with The Living Church. “It goes with the territory.”

The Cambridge, Massachusetts seminary sold property worth over $33 million to neighboring Lesley University just before Ragsdale’s term in office in an effort to pay off outstanding debt and regain the school’s financial footing. According to The Living Church, EDS draws 7 percent from its $66 million endowment to cover operating costs; 5 percent or less would be considered sustainable.

Ragsdale became president of Episcopal Divinity School in 2009, one of the Episcopal Church’s most liberal of 10 accredited seminaries. The seminary’s board describes EDS as “leaders in educational programs that are enlivened by theologies of liberation, especially the many voices of feminist, congregational, ecumenical, and global studies.”

Ragsdale is only the second ever female Episcopal seminary chief and the first professed homosexual one. She is also the former director of Massachusetts-based Political Research Associates, a watchdog of conservatism in America.

In 2011, EDS issued an 800-word press release acclaiming the “historic”wedding of Ragsdale and her partner, The Rev. Mally Lloyd, Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Ragsdale and Lloyd were married in a ceremony at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Boston by the late Bishop Thomas Shaw in the presence of 400 family and friends.

The developments at EDS come as similar turmoil at the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York appears to be quieting down. Dean Kurt Dunkle of GTS faced opposition from a majority of faculty whose “resignations” were accepted by the GTS board despite not being offered. Eight of the nine dismissed faculty were later “provisionally” reinstated.

Latest Articles

Similar articles