Monday, March 31, 2008

Five Violations of the Same Canon!

I have to interrupt my planned sequence of posts to deal with recent events. They have become too outrageous to ignore.

Let us begin to catalog here the manifold abuses by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. For having occupied her office for such a short time, it is truly a remarkable record---and this post will deal with her violations in just one case!

In July 2006, before the Rt. Rev. Jefferts Schori took office as Presiding Bishop, then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold received allegations that the Rt. Rev. William J. Cox, the retired assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma, had ordained to the ministry three candidates on behalf of, and at the express request of, the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Uganda. Bishop Cox's supposed offense consisted of performing the ordinations in June 2005 at Christ Church of Overland Park, Kansas, which earlier in 2005 had left the Diocese of Kansas (after agreeing to purchase its assets from that Diocese for one million dollars) and had affiliated with the Province of Uganda. Bishop Wolfe of Kansas then joined with Bishop Moody of Oklahoma in bringing charges against the 85-year-old Bishop Cox, which Presiding Bishop Griswold forwarded to a disciplinary Review Committee under Title IV of the Church Canons. The Review Committee had not completed its investigation by the time that Presiding Bishop Griswold's term expired in November.

One of the acts of the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori at her first meeting presiding over the House of Bishops in March 2007 was to announce that she had received the certification of the charges by the Review Committee and that Bishop Cox, then at age 86 the oldest living Bishop of the Episcopal Church, would be placed on trial for the ordinations at Christ Church. Rather than face such an ordeal with his 85-year-old wife, who has Alzheimer's Disease, Bishop Cox sent Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori a letter of resignation from the House of Bishops on March 28, 2007. What did the Presiding Bishop do in response? Noting that the letter stated that Bishop Cox intended to continue his "episcopal ministry" under the ecclesiastical authority of the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, she promptly referred his letter of resignation to the Title IV Review Committee and asked it to determine this time whether he had "abandoned the communion of this Church" within the meaning of Canon IV.9 (which provides for an investigation, but not a full-blown trial). The Committee duly obliged with a certification of abandonment in a letter to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori written on May 29, 2007.

In the first of many canonical violations to follow, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori inexplicably failed to carry out her duties under Canon IV.9:

The Canon says:

If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church . . . it shall be the duty of the Review Committee . . . to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church, shall then inhibit the said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. . . .

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori was told on May 29, 2007 that the Review Committee had certified that Bishop Cox had "abandoned the communion of this Church" by resigning from the House of Bishops and submitting to the jurisdiction of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Let us pass over for the moment the utter absurdity of such a finding in the case of such a saintly bishop (I will address the abuses of Canons IV.9 and IV.10 in a later post), and focus on the sequence of events. Despite receiving the certification, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori failed to secure the consent of the three senior bishops having jurisdiction to inhibit Bishop Cox, and she inexplicably sat on the certification for over seven months---until she informed Bishop Cox of it in a letter written on January 8, 2008. Yet the Canon says (with italics added for emphasis):

The Presiding Bishop . . . shall forthwith give notice to the Bishop of the certification and Inhibition.

How can a seven-month delay in notification meet the requirement of "forthwith"? It cannot. Apparently the delay occurred because the Presiding Bishop could not get the consent of "the three senior bishops having jurisdiction in this Church" to Bishop Cox's inhibition, and at a press conference concerning the matter this past March 12, that was the impression she initially gave. If so, the senior bishops are to be commended for trying to act as a brake on the Presiding Bishop's determination to depose Bishop Cox, but one of the three senior bishops admitted to George Conger that "he had never been asked" to consent to Bishop Cox's inhibition.
Canon IV.9 goes on to make clear that only a Bishop who has first been inhibited "will be liable to deposition" under its procedures:

Unless the inhibited Bishop, within two months, makes declaration by a Verified written statement to the Presiding Bishop, that the facts alleged in the certificate are false or utilizes the provisions of Canon IV.8 or Canon III.12.7, as applicable, the Bishop will be liable to Deposition.

So we come to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's second major violation of this canon: she had no authority under it to require Bishop Cox to make a verified declaration refuting the allegations within 60 days, or else to face a vote of deposition in the House of Bishops. Her letter to him of January 8 not only was written seven months too late, but it was a complete abuse of her canonical authority to write it at all.

(Apparently Bishop Cox was by this time too weary of the un-Christian attitudes on display from his colleagues, and too wise to spend any money on legal fees disputing the Presiding Bishop's abuses of her authority. He admits today that he has willingly abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, and seems even to be rather glad to be separated from it. "This is not the same church in which I was ordained," he says.)

Not content with violating Canon IV.9 twice in the space of eight months, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori violated it a third and a fourth time just two months later, at the recent meeting of the House of Bishops at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas from March 9-12. She violated it by proposing that the House consent to her deposition of Bishop Cox when she had not been successful in having him inhibited, and then, on March 12, she violated the following language of the Canon (presented in bold for emphasis) in announcing the results of the unrecorded voice vote:

[If the inhibited Bishop does not satisfactorily refute the charges of abandonment, then] it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the House. If the House, by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent, the Presiding Bishop shall depose the Bishop from the Ministry, and pronounce and record in the presence of two or more Bishops that the Bishop has been deposed.

There were only 131 out of the total of 294 bishops entitled to a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops who registered for the meeting at Camp Allen in March. Of those, at least 15 had left by the morning of the last day of the session, on March 12, and by the time the resolution to depose came up for discussion some hours later, only 68 active bishops (plus an undisclosed number of retired bishops) answered the roll call. (Sixty-eight active bishops is the minimum number required to constitute a quorum of the current House of Bishops!) By the language of the Canon quoted in bold above, which has not changed substantively in meaning since the first version was adopted in 1853, a majority of 294, or 148, votes were required to make a valid consent to Bishop Cox's deposition as of March 12, 2008. Even if the vote had been unanimous (and the Secretary of the House of Bishops agrees that it was not), it would have fallen at least 32 votes short of the majority required if there were 116 present, and by far more if the number had dropped to 68 plus a few retired bishops, as reported.

This did not stop Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori from announcing immediately that Bishop Cox (and Bishop Schofield, who will be the subject of a separate post) would be deposed in accordance with the untallied voice votes in favor of the resolution---and thus she committed her fourth violation of Canon IV.9, by claiming that she and the House of Bishops had followed its requirements. A few days later, she added her fifth and final violation of this Canon (in just the case of Bishop Cox!) by signing, in the presence of two other bishops, a declaration of deposition. Even that latter document, however, was replete with errors and misstatements: Bishop Cox is described as "the Bishop of Maryland, Resigned", when he was never the diocesan, but rather the suffragan, Bishop of Maryland, and he was the assisting bishop of Oklahoma, not Maryland, when he retired in 1988. Moreover, if he was "resigned", then The Episcopal Church must have accepted his March 28, 2007 letter of resignation---but how could it later depose him once he had resigned? [For a technical clarification on this point, for which I am grateful, see the comment by Dan Martins below.] Finally, the declaration of deposition is defective on its face: it never recites that he was inhibited before being deposed, as required by Canon IV.9 in clear language.

The Bishop responsible for the current revision of the Canons evinced no more of an understanding of the failures to follow the process than did Katharine Jefferts Schori. Commenting on the deposition of Bishop Cox, Indianapolis Bishop Catherine Waynick is quoted as writing that "while the 'canons may need to be clarified, what does not seem to need clarifying' was that 'William Cox willfully violated the canons by functioning where he had specifically been asked not to.'" She thus pronounced him guilty of charges that were never brought to trial, and which formed no part of the reasons for his supposed deposition.

This is a sorry, sorry chronicle of abuse and arrogance, probably not exceeded at any time in the history of the Episcopal Church since the days of Archbishop Laud. All who played any part in it, as well as those who are urging that the result be left to stand as is, warts and all, are covered in a shame that ought to be intolerable for an ordinary mortal, let alone one who has been consecrated to holy orders. Yes, a curmudgeon has to have something to grouse about from time to time, but with this latest disgrace to the Church, my cup has indeed run over.

UPDATE: Bishop Cox's attorney has demanded that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori retract her defamatory certification that he was lawfully and regularly "deposed". At last, there might be some accountability in this desultory affair! [Tip of the hat to Mark McCall.]


  1. This is a brilliant analysis. I will offer only one minor technical observation: The canons no longer allow for a bishop to "retire," they must "resign" at age 72. But, all else being equal, they retain membership in the HOB. Hence, while she got the diocese and the title wrong, saying that Bishop Cox was "Resigned" does not imply the same thing as what he intended when he himself "resigned" from the HOB. But, well done!

  2. Well done, A.S.
    Any relation to Kent?
    And glad to hear of Cox's attorney stepping up. There's the principle of the thing.