Defenders of the Presiding Bishop are scrambling to re-interpret her extraordinary action of depriving a bishop of the Church of England of the gifts and authority conferred in his ordination and removing him from the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church. For example, the group supporting the Presiding Bishop in Pittsburgh stated that “[t]his is a routine way of permitting Bishop Scriven to continue his ministry.” In the strange world of TEC, renunciation of orders has become a routine way of continuing one’s ministry.
But it is not routine. Indeed, it has not been used for those transferring from TEC to another province in the Anglican Communion until the Presiding Bishop began what resembles a scorched-earth approach to her opponents within TEC. Not surprisingly, in the past such matters have been handled by letter. One can see the evolution of the Presiding Bishop’s “routine” policy in the treatment of Bishop David Bena, who was transferred by letter by his diocesan bishop to the Church of Nigeria in February 2007. A month later, the Presiding Bishop wrote Bishop Bena and informed him that “by this action you are no longer a member of the House of Bishops” and that she had informed the Secretary of the House to remove him from the list of members. That was all that needed to be done. A year later, however, as her current strategy emerged, she suddenly declared in January 2008 that she had accepted Bishop Bena’s renunciation of orders using the canon she now uses against Bishop Scriven. In other words, if this is now sadly routine, it has only become routine in the past year.
Not only is this not routine, it was not necessary. As we pointed out in our original statement, Bishop Scriven ceased to be an Assistant Bishop in TEC and thereby ceased to be a member of TEC’s House of Bishops the moment Bishop Duncan was deposed. This was a constitutional disqualification imposed on Bishop Scriven by Article I.2 of TEC’s constitution. Canonically speaking, he ceased to be a bishop in TEC at that point. His original status as a bishop of the Church of England was not thereby affected, of course, and upon requesting and receiving an honorary role in the Diocese of Oxford that became his formal diocesan home. All that was necessary in January 2009 was for TEC to conform its records to this fact.
Most importantly, however, this action reflects profound confusion about the nature of TEC’s communion with other churches. In the past year, Bishop Steenson, Bishop Iker and now Bishop Scriven have been dealt with in precisely the same way. The implication of the back-pedaling on Bishop Scriven is that he remains a bishop (like the Archbishop of Canterbury) that TEC would welcome provided he had the right license. If that is all the Presiding Bishop accomplished with her solemn “Renunciation of Ordained Ministry and Declaration of Removal and Release,” she needn’t have bothered. She did not need to inform all the bishops of TEC that Bishop Scriven could act in their dioceses only with their license or permission. They already knew that. It is what Canon III.12.3(e) plainly requires (and required of Bishop Scriven even before the Presiding Bishop’s action).
And is this what she was trying to communicate with respect to Bishop Iker? That he remains a bishop of a church in communion with TEC, is no longer under inhibition or amenable to presentment for violations of the constitution and canons and is welcome to act in TEC provided he get the same license or permission of the diocese that is required of all TEC and communion bishops, including herself? One suspects not, but in that case, how can the very same action taken against Bishop Scriven be considered routine?
A major concern in all this is that a canon written with a catholic understanding of both the Church and Holy Orders is being handled in such a way that, in order to get a job done, the Presiding Bishop and her Council of Advice are creating a new functional/local definition of Holy Orders. To call this a minor alteration and something we should all understand under the rubric of ‘good housekeeping’ threatens to create yet a further mess, the net effect of which might well be to redefine American Anglicanism as an autonomous church with an autonomous understanding of Communion and Holy Orders both. Does the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church agree to this understanding? This is not an idle question precisely because the actions in respect of Bishop Scriven have, in the nature of the case, been acts of communication to the wider Communion about the character of Communion and Holy Orders as TEC presumes to understand them. One can rightly worry that the catholic character of our Anglican life and practice is now threatened by a desire to achieve an end, even if it means the conflating of very different cases so as to deploy a single canonical statute that was arguably never meant for any of them.
Friday, January 30, 2009
From the Anglican Communion Institute: