Bid to depose US Bishop backfires
By: George Conger
US PRESIDING Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s bid to depose Bishop Robert Duncan before the opening of the 2008 Lambeth Conference has misfired, leaving the Pittsburgh Bishop in office pending a trial at the autumn meeting of the House of Bishops.
On Jan 15, Bishop Schori wrote to the conservative leader saying that although a secret review panel on Dec 17 had found that he had ‘abandoned the communion’ of the Episcopal Church, after four weeks of deliberations the Church’s three senior bishops were not able to agree upon suspending him from office.
If Bishop Duncan had been suspended, he would have been brought before the March meeting of the House of Bishops for trial, and likely be deposed from office by the liberal majority. Having failed to inhibit him, the charges will now be heard by the Bishops in September. However she urged him to recant within two months, ‘providing evidence that you once more consider yourself fully subject to the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church.’
Last week San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield was certified by the review panel as having abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church, and the three senior bishops, Peter Lee of Virginia, Don Wimberly of Texas and Leo Frade of Southeast Florida agreed to inhibit him -- prohibiting him from exercising his ministry as bishop --- pending a trial at the March meeting.
The failure to inhibit Bishop Duncan leaves him in office for the July 16-Aug 3 Lambeth Conference and will likely serve as a rallying point for conservatives against the Episcopal Church at Lambeth.
The aborted bid to depose him before his diocese took the final step in quitting the Episcopal Church, paradoxically, may serve to strengthen his hand as some bishops who were wavering about attending may now go to Lambeth to protect Bishop Duncan.
In a statement released late on Tuesday night, Bishop Duncan denied that he had been unfaithful to the tenets of the Church. “Few bishops have been more loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church. I have not abandoned the Communion of this Church. I will continue to serve and minister as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh,” he said.
Fellow conservative Bishop Jack Iker stated it was ‘tragic and deeply disturbing’ that Bishop Schori would move against Bishop Duncan before Pittsburgh took ‘any final decision’ to separate from the Episcopal Church.
“The fact that Bishop Duncan and the Diocese of Pittsburgh are still a part of the Episcopal Church was clearly affirmed by the refusal of the three senior diocesan bishops to consent to his being inhibited for this alleged offence,” he said.
The Episcopal Church gives ‘lip service’ to the mantra of dialogue ‘to heal our divisions’ while ‘at the same time closing off any possibility of continuing conversations by aggressive, punitive actions such as this,’ he said.
Bishop Iker noted that he too had received a ‘threatening’ letter from Bishop Schori on Jan 15, that said he ‘would be liable for charges of violation of my ordination vows if I continue “any encouragement of such a belief”,’ --- that parishes and diocese can quit the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Schori denied there was an organized campaign being waged by the national Church to silence the voice of conservatives in her letter to Bishop Iker. “I lament your belief,” she wrote, that those “with your theological position are being systematically eliminated from positions of leadership and influence. If they are disappearing, it is by their own decision and at their own hands.”
She stated that she had sought to ‘include all theological positions in appointments within our purview’ and had not discriminated against traditionalists. However, following her election as Presiding Bishop, Bishop Schori said she hoped to educate Bishop Iker and other opponents of women clergy on the ‘heresy of Donatism,’ and has not favoured the clergy careers of those on the right of the church spectrum.
Bishop Schori acknowledged that Bishop Iker was concerned with being ‘threatened with depositions and lawsuits.’ However such a fate would be self-inflicted, she suggested.
“Depositions and lawsuits have no substance if there has been no violation,” she said. “Fear of same is probably not rational if there is no basis for same.”
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