What did she know and when did she know it?
- 9/6 Bishop Schori, Bishop Lawrence, and Bishop Waldo agree to meet on Oct. 3rd in New York to discuss how to resolve tensions between Diocese of South Carolina and others in the Episcopal Church.
- 9/18 The Disciplinary Board for Bishops certifies Bishop Lawrence's abandonment of the church.
- 9/18 The Disciplinary Board formally issues its certification by letter to the Presiding Bishop.
- 9/10 The Disciplinary Board assembles accompanying documents.
- 9/22 Bishop Lawrence, in preparation for the scheduled 10/3 meeting, communicates to the Diocese of South Carolina, requesting patience and prayers.
- 10/3 Bishop Schori, Bishop Lawrence and Bishop Waldo meet to discuss creative solutions. Bishop Schori agrees that“creative solutions” are desirable to avoid total war. Bishop Schori focuses on how long Bishop Lawrence plans to remain Bishop of the Diocese, asking him if five years is a reasonable assumption. Next meeting is set for October 11 (later changed to 10/22 due to funeral).
- 10/10 Bishop Schori formally receives the Disciplinary Board's letter.
- 10/15 Bishop Schori informs Bishop Lawrence of the certification of abandonment and restrictions on ministry.
- 10/15 Abandonment Certification triggers two resolutions of the Diocese of South Carolina to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church and to call a special convention.
- 10/17 Bishop Lawrence publicly releases abandonment certification and documents.
- 10/18 Local S.C. parish discloses well-organized plan to remove and replace Bishop Lawrence and the elected leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina.
- 10/18 Another website discloses that the well-organized plan to remove and replace the elected leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina originates from the Presiding Bishop Schori.
- Oct. 20 Bishop vonRosenberg, appointed by Bishop Schori to replace Bishop Lawrence, meets with diocesan members.
- 10/22 Bishop Schori, Bishop Lawrence, and Bishop Waldo plan to meet again to discuss creative solutions. Meeting later cancelled by Bishop Lawrence after learning of Bishop Schori's organized plan to take over the Diocese of South Carolina.
- 11/3 Two South Carolina parishes aligned with Bishop Schori place ad in local newspaper under the official seal of the Diocese of South Carolina and claim they are the diocese.
- 11/7 Email invitation sent to all the clergy under the official seal of the Diocese of South Carolina and pretending to represent the diocese requesting their attendance at a "Clergy Day" led by Bishop Schori's appointed replacement of the Bishop of South Carolina and to hear a "report" from the "steering committee." Location withdrawn after the rector of the host parish learns of the deception.
- 11/7 Second public announcement released again under the official corporate seal of the Diocese of South Carolina listing names of a "steering committee" with at least one member appointed before 9/18.
- 11/17 Diocese of South Carolina Special Convention.
A review of the developments in South Carolina over the last two months makes for depressing reading. The starting point is the agreement reached on September 6 among Bishop Lawrence, the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Waldo of Upper South Carolina to meet in New York on October 3 to discuss “creative solutions” to the longstanding tensions between the Diocese and others in the church. It was two weeks after this meeting was set, on September 18, that the Disciplinary Board for Bishops decided to reverse a decision it had made only last year and to certify Bishop Mark Lawrence for abandonment of the church. And still another two weeks passed before the meeting in New York occurred as planned on October 3. Yet Bishop Lawrence did not learn of the abandonment certification until October 15.
This raises troubling questions at the very outset of this process. How could the Board certify Bishop Lawrence for abandonment while he was trying to resolve these issues in good faith as Matthew’s Gospel commands through direct communication with the Presiding Bishop? How could the Presiding Bishop meet in good faith with Bishop Lawrence on October 3 without disclosing that the Board had certified abandonment two weeks earlier? Were there no communications between the Presiding Bishop’s office, including counsel, and the Board? In previous cases of abandonment, the documentary record has shown that there were frequent communications between the Presiding Bishop’s counsel and the Board’s predecessor—the Title IV Review Committee.
When the abandonment certification finally came to light, TEC described this sequence in selective detail:
[The Board] issued a letter dated September 18. Following the assembly of numerous documents, the Presiding Bishop received the letter in her Church Center office on October 10; the letter was received via U.S. Mail.
We are told when the letter was dated, but not when it was signed; we know when (and how) the letter arrived at the office, but not what the Presiding Bishop knew and when she knew it.
When Bishop Lawrence first learned of the abandonment certification on October 15, his chancellor was given an unsigned certification dated September 18 and the “numerous documents”—the “evidence”—in computer files dated September 19. It is customary in legal systems that provide due process to assemble the evidence before the verdict, not after. In any event, the three weeks between September 19 (“the assembly of numerous documents”) and October 10 (package received at the Church Center) is a long time, even for the U.S. Mail.
This sequence inevitably causes those without knowledge of the facts, including us, to suspect that the certification was not in fact signed on September 18 or mailed when the evidence was assembled on September 19, but only mailed, perhaps by mutual agreement, after the October 3 meeting. The Presiding Bishop should state categorically whether she was aware of the Board’s decision when she met with Bishop Lawrence on October 3; stating that she did not have the executed hard copy to hand is not enough.
At the October 3 meeting there was agreement to meet again, which was subsequently set for October 22. The Presiding Bishop requested that the fact of the meetings be kept confidential; Bishop Lawrence agreed for the time being, but noted that he would not be able to keep the meetings confidential for long. Bishop Lawrence presided over an anxious diocese. Shortly before the first meeting with the Presiding Bishop, he had asked the Diocese on September 22 for patience:
We announced last month on August 20th that the Standing Committee and I were in agreement on a course of action regarding the future of the Diocese of South Carolina and the challenges many of us face because of decisions by the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church. However, for many reasons it was then and is now, imprudent to reveal that course of action. Things are progressing—we have not stopped or dropped the ball. Please know that I understand the level of anxiety and concern of many in the diocese. Nevertheless I must ask you all for your continued patience and prayers as we seek to deal wisely and carefully with a fluid situation that requires great discernment and sensitivity on a regular basis. I will communicate to you the details at the very earliest moment such a communication is prudent.
The “course of action” that he could not disclose was his agreement to meet with the Presiding Bishop in an effort to work out these “challenges” in a Scriptural manner. He had no inkling when he wrote this that the Board had already—and secretly—decided to try to expel him from the church.
When the Presiding Bishop advised Bishop Lawrence two weeks after their meeting that the Board had certified abandonment, she also advised him that she was restricting his ministry as the canon requires. She asked, however, that they proceed as planned with their scheduled second meeting the following week and that he keep the certification and restriction confidential in the meantime.Did the Presiding Bishop expect Bishop Lawrence to continue to perform his episcopal duties in TEC notwithstanding her restriction? Or did she expect him to give the Diocese a false explanation for why he could not do so?
On October 17 Bishop Lawrence advised the Presiding Bishop that he could no longer keep any of this confidential due to pre-existing resolutions of the Diocese. He then made all these developments and documents public. Less than 24 hours later the website of one of the pro-TEC parishes in the diocese disclosed that well-advanced plans were already laid to replace the diocesan leadership even down to the selection of the laity who would participate in the new structures:
However, soon an Interim Bishop will be appointed by the Presiding Bishop to carry on the liturgical work of Bishop Lawrence. Together with the National Church and diocesan “Transitional Committee” being formed (of which vestry person Erin Bailey will be a part), along with the avalanche of emotion that will erupt, we will continue as we have. (Emphasis added.)
Another website also posted the following almost immediately:
We all have questions but understand that a transition team has been put in place by the Presiding Bishop and that information will be shared, perhaps next week. It will serve everyone well to wait and hear from the Presiding Bishop. (Emphasis added.)
Within 48 hours, the apparent “Interim Bishop” Charles vonRosenberg was reported to be meeting with members of the Diocese. All this before the second meeting between the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Lawrence still scheduled at that time for October 22.
After learning of these developments, Bishop Lawrence declined to meet with the Presiding Bishop on October 22 as scheduled. Also, as telegraphed immediately on the parish websites, the prior plans of the “Interim Bishop” and “Transitional Committee” became public. On November 3, two of the TEC parishes placed an ad in a local paper using the diocesan seal and claiming that the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” “will continue” as part of TEC with “new leadership and a new Bishop.” Four days later an email was sent to diocesan clergy by an entity claiming to be “the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina,” using the diocesan seal and inviting them to a “Clergy Day” with Bishop vonRosenberg as preacher at which they would receive a report from “the Steering Committee.” The rector of the parish at which this was to be held was unaware of the nature of this meeting, which subsequently had to be moved to a different venue when he objected.
On November 11 a public statement was released using the Diocese’s name and seal to announce the formation of a “Steering Committee” to “reorganize” the Diocese and act as the body “that communicates with the Presiding Bishop during this period.” One of the officers is the laywoman whose selection had apparently been made even before the abandonment certification was announced. Two “Episcopal Advisors” to the Steering Committee were announced, Bishops vonRosenberg and Buchanan, who currently serves as the “Provisional Bishop” of the TEC diocese in Quincy.
One need not speculate as to the purpose of the actions to confiscate the Diocese’s name and seal. TEC has already followed the same path in Fort Worth. Their objective is to assume the legal identity of the departed diocese and then attempt to register that identity with the federal trademark office in Washington. This requires as a prerequisite a demonstrated use of the trademarks by the party seeking to register them. But all of this is mere groundwork for a subsequent trademark infringement action in federal court in which TEC attempts to litigate highly disputed issues of church polity in the unrelated context of trademark law. TEC tried exactly this litigation tactic in Fort Worth to circumvent the state court where TEC itself had initially filed suit, but the tactic failed when Bishop Iker successfully moved the federal court to stay the litigation pending the adjudication of the controlling state law issues.
This tactic is certainly doomed to failure in South Carolina. The diocesan name and corporate seal have long been the property of the South Carolina corporation that constitutes the Diocese, and they are registered in its name. Under South Carolina law, these misuses of the diocesan name and seal subject those responsible for the deception to serious civil liability, including treble damages. Indeed, if the seal were used in connection with the sale of goods and services such as church calendars, coffee mugs or posters or the rental of church facilities, the misuse of the corporate identity and seal could be a felony under South Carolina law.
All of this premeditated effort and deception has been unleashed, moreover, in a state where the Supreme Court has already ruled that issues of corporate control in South Carolina corporations, like the Diocese, are determined by neutral principles of law and that TEC’s Dennis Canon has no effect in the state. Is it too much to ask that TEC exhibit the same standard of good faith and fair dealing the law requires of all parties to ordinary commercial transactions?
To summarize: these facts raise important questions. When did the Presiding Bishop learn of the Disciplinary Board’s decision regarding Bishop Lawrence? Did she act deceitfully by feigning a desire for conciliation when she in fact had already made plans to replace him as bishop? These questions go to the heart of Christian integrity and episcopal credibility.
Be sure to read it all here.