Thursday, December 11, 2008

REPORT: The Episcopal Church descends into canonical chaos?

The latest paper from the Anglican Communion Institute, from here. It's not clear whether the current Presiding Bishop is either adequately equipped or experienced for the work she's been given to do or if those who are advising her just ought to be fired. Someone get Detroit on the phone.

By her action purporting to accept a “renunciation” by Bishop Iker of his ordained ministry, the Presiding Bishop has taken her abuse and contortion of TEC’s canons to a new level. In doing so, however, she has inexplicably conceded that Bishop Iker has not violated the Constitution and Canons of TEC and that he is no longer subject to its discipline. This clearly unintended consequence not only will have serious implications for any future litigation in Fort Worth, it once again calls into question the canonical validity of numerous actions she has taken over the past year.

The Presiding Bishop’s action with respect to Bishop Iker was taken pursuant to Canon III.12.7. The relevant portion of that canon is the following:

“If any Bishop of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to record the declaration and request so made…”

There are several problems with the use of this canon in the case of Bishop Iker. The most serious, however, is the qualification plainly stated in the opening words of this section that this canon does not apply to any bishop who is “subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8.” That latter canon addresses possible renunciation by any bishop “Amenable for or under a Presentment” for offenses as defined by TEC’s disciplinary canons. Among the offenses defined in Canon IV.1 as making a bishop “liable to presentment” is “violation of the Constitution and Canons of General Convention.” And Canon IV.15 defines “amenable” as follows:

“Amenable shall mean subject, accountable, and responsible to the discipline of this Church.

Amenable for Presentment for an Offense shall mean that a reasonable suspicion exists that the individual has been or may be accused of the commission of an Offense.”

TEC’s canons treat the question of renunciation by a bishop in two places. Canon IV.8, one of the disciplinary canons, deals with bishops who are alleged to have committed a canonical violation. Canon III.12.7, part of the canons on ministry, deals with cases where disciplinary issues are not involved. (One apparent anomaly, that bishops already under presentment for the most serious criminal or moral offenses are explicitly excluded from IV.8 and thereby brought within III.12.7, is resolved by the provision in III.12.7(b) that any disciplinary proceedings must be concluded with an acquittal before that non-disciplinary canon is used.)

When the Presiding Bishop chose to pursue Bishop Iker under the non-disciplinary canon, she necessarily conceded that he was not in violation of TEC’s constitution and canons. Any bishop for whom there is even “a reasonable suspicion” that he has violated the constitution and canons of TEC and who is subject to the discipline of the church is “subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8″ in cases of purported renunciation. By invoking another canon, III.12.7, the Presiding Bishop has explicitly conceded that Bishop Iker is not subject to IV.8, i.e., he has not violated the constitution and canons and is not subject to the discipline of TEC. In other words, Bishop Iker (and the diocese) had effectively and canonically withdrawn from union with the General Convention.

If the Presiding Bishop’s abuse of the renunciation canon was an attempt to gain a temporary litigation advantage in an upcoming lawsuit, it will have rather the opposite effect. Moreover, it now calls into question the depositions of Bishops Cox, Schofield, Duncan and numerous clergy under the abandonment canons of TEC. If Bishop Iker was not in violation of the canons and subject to the discipline of TEC, in what way have these others violated those canons or renounced that discipline? The Presiding Bishop’s response to Bishop Iker has legally undermined all these prior actions.

To summarize: if, as the Presiding Bishop has maintained in the past, the action of Bishop Iker and the diocese of Fort Worth to withdraw from TEC is a violation of the constitution and canons and if Bishop Iker has renounced his ministry as the Presiding Bishop claims contrary to the plain facts, then Bishop Iker would be “subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8.” If Bishop Iker were subject to those provisions, as the prior action by the Presiding Bishop on November 21 imposing the discipline of inhibition presupposes, he would not be subject to Canon III.12.7, the canon now invoked by the Presiding Bishop. Therefore, her action in accepting his purported “renunciation” pursuant to III.12.7 is a repudiation of her prior positions and an admission that Bishop Iker and his diocese lawfully withdrew from TEC and are no longer subject to its discipline.

In March 2007, the Presiding Bishop invalidated the first election of Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina on the grounds that some of the consents were transmitted electronically and thus did not comply with a strict interpretation of the canon on consents requiring that consents be in writing and signed. When it suits her current purposes, however, she construes a diocesan press release containing a statement by Bishop Iker that does not mention renunciation as satisfying a canonical requirement that a bishop “declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom….” A press release from the diocese becomes a declaration in writing to the Presiding Bishop, and something that does not even mention renunciation becomes a declaration of it. All can plainly see the inconsistencies and canonical abuse that is now a defining pattern of the Presiding Bishop’s tenure in office.

ACI has expressed growing concerns about this pattern over the course of the past year. In an article last spring entitled “The Presiding Bishop of TEC: Does She Know What She Is Doing?”, Dr. Philip Turner raised an alarm that the Presiding Bishop

“is trying by the creation of an unchallenged precedent to expand the powers of the Presiding Bishop and in so doing convert the office into that of a Metropolitan. Such a move amounts to a sea change and runs directly contrary to the original constitutional purpose of having a Presiding Bishop rather than an Archbishop.”

Following the vote by the House of Bishops in September to depose Bishop Duncan, ACI noted in a joint statement by Drs. Seitz, Turner and Radner that:

“The legitimacy of the House’s action and the Presiding Bishop’s leadership has been placed in serious question before the eyes of the Communion and the larger public. No one should minimize the role this may play in the unfolding re-establishment of the Communion’s common life.”

Just last month Dr. Turner wrote a comprehensive article detailing the actions of the Presiding Bishop and the House of Bishops “to address the present crisis by actions that effect changes in the polity of their church that are neither constitutional nor canonical.”

ACI fears that the Presiding Bishop with the concurrence of TEC’s progressive majority is now leading TEC not merely into canonical abuse and usurpation of power but into canonical chaos and institutional disintegration. Unless checked, this chaos will have grave implications for the future of the Communion as a whole.
By: The Reverend Professor Christopher Seitz, The Reverend Dr. Philip Turner, The Reverend Dr. Ephraim Radner, Mr. Mark McCall of the Anglican Communion Institute.

LATER: Sometimes one can only respond thus:

In fact, it works quite well to click the performance above and then go back read the ACI report as the young Pavarotti sings the Verdi Requiem. Sometimes analysis is enough - and sometimes you just need Pavarotti.

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