Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Abuses of the Abandonment Canons (II)

As the previous post explains, the Abandonment Canons (Canons IV.9 and IV.10 of The Episcopal Church) are more and more being put to a use for which they were not designed: they are being used to depose priests and bishops who disagree with the recent doctrinal departures in TEC, and who as a result change jurisdictions to another province of the Anglican Communion. If any Canons are violated in such a transfer, the proper use of the Canons requires a presentment to be brought against the offender under Canon IV.1, and not a charge of "abandonment" under Canon IV.9 or IV.10. Since both of the latter Canons define the offense of "abandonment" as the joining of a religious body not in communion with TEC, it makes no sense to read them as also prohibiting the joining of a church that is in communion with TEC---yet that is just what has happened.

As we saw in the previous two posts, Canons IV.9 and IV.10 were used, before the changes were made to the Book of Common Prayer in 1979, to deal with situations where priests (and some Bishops) had left TEC to join the Catholic Church, or to form a dissident church, as the Reformed Episcopal Church was organized in 1873. At that time, the dividing issue was "high church", Anglo-Catholic pomp and rites versus "low church", Evangelical Protestantism. A little more than a hundred years later, a similar divide appeared over the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood. In both 1970 and 1973, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church rejected resolutions to approve women's ordination. In 1974, two retired Bishops and one resigned Bishop joined in ordaining eleven women (the "Philadelphia Eleven") to the priesthood. The House of Bishops met in emergency session, declared the ordinations "irregular" and "invalid", and censured the Bishops involved; some diocesan Bishops with jurisdiction over the women (in their capacity as already ordained deacons) inhibited them from serving as priests.

With the ordinations, however, the momentum began to swing the other way, despite warnings of "apostasy" and "declarations of conscience" from conservative clergy. Just two years later, at its General Convention of 1976, TEC approved the ordination of women to the priesthood. As a consequence, two ministers declared themselves no longer subject to the authority of their diocesans who had voted for the change. Both were charged with "abandonment of communion" under Canon IV.10, both were inhibited and then deposed, and both left to form (with the help of the Rt. Rev. Albert Chambers, Retired) the Anglican Church in North America, which had a somewhat rocky beginning. Others joined them, parishes voted to leave their dioceses, the dioceses sued to retain what they claimed was their property under the Constitution and Canons, and the entire affair has much the same ring about it as do the disputes today---with this major difference: the dissident parishes and their priests today are leaving, not to form a new church that will not be in communion with TEC, but to join other provinces in the Anglican Communion. The Abandonment Canons were properly used in 1977 to depose the priests who joined the dissident church, since those priests no longer wished to function in TEC, and they had not formally joined any other province of the Anglican Communion. Their case, therefore, was closer to that of the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873 than it is to the cases presented today.

Two major differences mark today's situation as apart from those in 1873 or 1976: first, the Episcopal Church's doctrinal position was not out of step with that of the larger Anglican Communion in either 1873 or in 1976 (the Anglican Consultative Council had allowed provinces to proceed with the ordination of women in 1971); and second, the ordination vows in 1873 and 1976 had not yet been changed as described in the previous post---where the vow "to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word" was discarded in 1979 in favor of one to "conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church". What has happened is that today's clergy find themselves ensnared between the Scylla of swearing allegiance to "the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church" and the Charybdis of swearing to uphold the "doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them". No priest can be true to his ordination vows unless the "doctrine, discipline and worship" are the same in both cases, and the problem is that there are many today who hold sincerely that they are not the same.

It makes very poor sense, then, to exploit this gap by claiming a violation of "the doctrine, discipline or worship of this Church" when one is merely following one's conscience to try to make it possible to adhere to "the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them", if necessary under the authority of a different diocesan. There is only one remedy for cases of abandonment: deposition, and that is simply an inappropriate remedy when a member of the clergy wishes to remain within the churches of the Anglican Communion. Deposition revokes the authority of a priest, bishop or deacon to minister at services in The Episcopal Church. The Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, however, contemplate that any clergy ordained within the Anglican Communion may be licensed by suitable local authority to minister within the Episcopal Church, and such license is not possible when one has been deposed from that very church. Thus by deposing its clergy who wish to stay within the Anglican Communion, TEC is doing permanent harm to its polity by creating a different class of Anglican clergy: those who may minister within any church in the Communion with the exception of within TEC itself.

There is further the point that disagreement over doctrine does not necessarily imply "abandonment"---especially where, again, the disagreeing member of the clergy still is doing his or her conscientious best to remain within the Anglican Communion. A far wiser and more experienced canon lawyer than yours truly warned very presciently about the chilling consequences of equating disagreement with abandonment. That warning is just as relevant today as it was in the context in which it was given. In fact, look how far we have traveled down the road to self-isolation in just thirty years. Here is a statement made in 1977 by the Prior of Mount Calvary Retreat House on the role of the Episcopal Church in the wider Communion:
Most of us remain, or become, Episcopalians because she is a Church with no other doctrine, discipline and worship than that of the ancient Catholic Church (an Archbishop of Canterbury said that, not I on my own), faithful to the principle and process of Reformation when needed, and respectful of the contributions in thought and expression of conscience of each of her members.

We are an Episcopal Church (according to our Bishops by our own choice in response to our Tradition certain authority within the whole life of the Church), a Prayer Book Church (rejoicing in a heritage of Common Prayer, devotion, discipline, and teaching... all of which the Book expresses to every age, not enshrines to every age as perfect in that expression), and a Canonical Church (constantly regulating and guiding the life of Her members based on the Scriptures and the accumulated Wisdom of the Church). It goes without saying that we are a Biblical Church as well.

We allow, we strongly encourage, difference of opinion and diversity of expression... in liturgy, discipline and doctrinal acquiescence.
What happened to change this view? No doubt there were many factors; I shall highlight here just a few of ones I regard as significant. When the General Convention of 1979 adopted a resolution (A053) recommending against the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals to the priesthood, twenty-three bishops and over 150 clergy and laity endorsed a "Statement of Conscience" asserting that they would not accept the recommendation, or implement it in their dioceses. In 1987 and again in 1989, panels from the House of Bishops rejected charges brought against the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong for preaching unorthodox doctrine. While this refusal may have illustrated the "diversity of expression" mentioned by Prior McHugh in 1977, it also served to encourage Bishop Spong and his assistant Walter Righter to ordain a practicing homosexual to the priesthood later in 1989, contrary to the recommendations of the General Convention. The person so ordained, the Rev. J. Robert Williams of Hoboken, proved to be too controversial in his views even for Bishop Spong, who asked for and received Rev. Williams' resignation just five weeks later. Although he was briefly deterred from proceeding with a further ordination, Bishop Spong again, waiting until after the General Convention had failed to change its recommendation of 1979, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 a practicing homosexual whom Walter Righter (as Bishop Spong's assistant) had ordained as a deacon the year before.

At the General Convention of 1994, ten days of heated debate failed to produce any consensus other than a resolution to continue to study and to talk about the issue. Bishop Spong led 55 of his colleagues in issuing what he called a "Koinonia Statement" proclaiming that sexual orientation was "morally neutral," that marriage was "an honorable vocation for some of God's people," and that same-sex relationships were also "worthy of honor". (The Greek word "koinonia" is used in the New Testament to convey the concept of "community, participation and sharing.") Later that same year, the Diocese of Ft. Worth considered and rejected a resolution to leave The Episcopal Church.

Although the General Convention of 1991 had declined to censure him, the ordination of Deacon Stopfel by Assistant Bishop Righter in 1990 was the subject of a presentment brought against Bishop Righter five years later, just as the statute of limitations was about to expire. His defense to the charges expressly asserted: "There is no doctrine in this church pertaining to the qualifications of ordinands to the diaconate or limitations on a bishop's right to ordain a canonically qualified candidate. . . [Consequently,] it is not contrary to the doctrine of this church to ordain to the diaconate a non-celibate homosexual man or woman." The trial pitted against each other the forces that were to struggle over the next eleven years for control of The Episcopal Church. The presenters were the following diocesans: John Howe (Central Diocese of Florida), William Wantland (Eau Claire), James M. Stanton (Dallas), Stephen H. Jecko (Florida), John David Schofield (San Joaquin), Terence Kelshaw (Rio Grande), James M. Coleman (West Tennessee), Jack L. Iker (Ft. Worth), Maurice M. Benitez (Texas) and Keith Ackerman (Quincy). On the other side were the Trustees of the Episcopal Divinity School, many clergy from the Diocese of Newark, and at least thirty-five members of the House of Bishops. In a 7-1 decision reached in May 1996, the court held that only the General Convention could declare (and define protection for) doctrine that was not related to the "core doctrine" of salvation realized through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that it had not done so when it enacted what was only a "recommendation" in 1979. It thus kicked the issue of gay ordination back to the General Convention, which had thus far been unable to resolve it.

The outspoken theological positions of Bishop Spong, as well as his ordaining of a practicing homosexual in 1989, were adding fuel to a flame that had already been sparked by the women's ordination issue. The election of the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris as the Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts in 1988 had produced a countermovement within the Episcopal Church known as the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM), led by the Rt. Rev. Clarence C. Pope, Jr., the diocesan of Ft. Worth. Along with Bishops Edward A. MacBurney, diocesan of Quincy, and A. Donald Davies, the former diocesan of Ft. Worth, he and several others met in 1989 with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Ronald Runcie, to discuss "the need for continued maintenance and propagation of a traditional expression of Anglicanism within the Episcopal Church of the United States." However, "the ECM did not make definitive proposals to the Archbishop as to how this end should be achieved." Later that year, they formed what was called the Episcopal Synod of America, with its own House of Deputies and House of Bishops, and Bishop Davies, as its executive director, gave warning that bishops in the Synod would be performing sacramental acts in ECUSA dioceses to which they had not been invited. This was a direct challenge to the jurisdictions of ECUSA's bishops that was, if anything, more confrontational than even Bishop Spong's ordinations of practicing gays to the priesthood. Bishop Pope tried to play down the prospect of a confrontation with ECUSA, but Bishop Davies did not mince his words, according to the ENS article just cited: "Asked if he was going to cross diocesan lines uninvited, Bishop Davies said, 'We have to, or else we have no future. There may be bad feelings at this point, and we want to avoid that.'"

A temporary truce was declared following the meeting of the House of Bishops in September 1989, with all but retired Bishop Davies declaring themselves satisfied to let objections to women bishops be handled by means of an "Episcopal Visitors Plan". The truce lasted until 1991, when the ESA decided to form a new "Missionary Diocese of the Americas" (MDA) which would overlap with traditional ECUSA boundaries, and which would be headed up by Bishop Davies. In response, Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning wrote to all ECUSA diocesans a letter in which he outlined his views that the proposed diocese was contrary to ECUSA's Constitution and Canons. He also mentioned that the diocese had been turned down in an effort to associate with other provinces of the Anglican Communion, and expressed hope that a way to reconcile the differing sides could yet be found.

The first parish to join the newly created MDA was St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Richmond, in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. Disagree-ments with their bishop ranged from issues of homosexuals in positions of ministry to continued use of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The two sides squared off, with the defining question being whether or not the MDA was a valid part of ECUSA or not---its organizers claimed that it was, but Presiding Bishop Browning and the Archbishop of Canterbury regarded its formation as "potentially schismatic." The stakes were raised when, true to his word, retired Bishop Davies visited the parish in July 1992 to perform confirmations there without first obtaining permission from the diocesan of Southern Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Frank Vest. (He claimed he was visiting one of his own parishes, and was only "traveling through" the Diocese of Southern Virginia to do so.)

One of the organizers of the Episcopal Synod of America, the Rt. Rev. William Wantland, a respected canon lawyer, admitted that although Bishop Davies was in good standing with ECUSA, the MDA technically was "not in communion" with it, and urged the Rev. Leo Combes, rector of St. Luke's, to work out an accommodation with Bishop Vest. A month earlier the parish had filed a petition with the Virginia courts to determine that a "division" had occurred in ECUSA, and that under a special Virginia statute dating from the Civil War, the parish had elected to leave that church and keep its property. (This is the same statute whose constitutionality is now being considered in the suits between TEC and the dissident parishes of the Diocese of Virginia. The 1992 suit was resolved two years later when the Diocese of Southern Virginia agreed to sell the church property to the Rev. Leo Combes and his parishioners.) In November 1992, while the suit was pending, Bishop Davies took matters into his own hands. Declaring that the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, was "in apostasy" over the issue of women's ordination, he announced that MDA would leave both the Episcopal Synod of America and ECUSA. At the same time, he sent Presiding Bishop Browning a letter resigning his orders in ECUSA, and Bishop Browning responded by inhibiting him as a precursor to deposing him for abandoning the church. At their meeting in Panama in September of the next year---there was evidently no rush to judgment---the members of the House of Bishops present voted to depose Bishop Davies. (Since there were only 137 members present at the meeting, out of a total membership of about 315 entitled to vote at the time (according to the Episcopal Church Annual), the deposition, like the depositions of Bishops Cox and Schofield in 2008, was canonically invalid---but Bishop Davies had unquestionably left the Church for a new church that would not be in communion with it.)

It should be noted here that Bishop MacBurney of the Diocese of Quincy became embroiled in 1994 with a parish of his own diocese over a dispute about its leaving the Episcopal Church, and following charges of abandonment certified by his standing committee, Bishop MacBurney inhibited, and then deposed, the rector of the parish, the Rev. Garrett Clanton. This was a correct application of the canons, because Father Clanton had no desire to stay in communion with ECUSA. However, as most readers know, Bishop MacBurney is now the victim of an improper use of the canons in an attempt to discipline him for performing confirmations at a church in San Diego which had left TEC to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone. The case will present the metaphysical question of whether ceremonies performed inside such a church are nevertheless still capable of being regarded, for purposes of applying TEC's canons, as being performed within the Diocese of San Diego.

With no resolution of the homosexual ordination issue reached at the 1997 General Convention, Bishop Spong sent a challenge to the Archbishop of Canterbury to address the topic at the forthcoming 1998 Lambeth Conference. This was the Conference that resulted in the adoption of Resolution 1.10, advising against such ordinations in much the same way as Resolution A053 adopted at the 1979 General Convention. The consensus was now Communion-wide, but that did not stop the activism within TEC. Splits over the issue of gay ordination and same-sex blessings now developed between diocesans and their priests in the Dioceses of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arkansas, the Central Gulf Coast, and others.

In February 2002, after a long series of contretemps, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania advised Bishop Bennison, the diocesan, that the Rev. Dr. David Moyer, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pennsylvania had "abandoned the communion of this Church" by refusing to allow Bishop Bennison to make a pastoral visit, by failing to present candidates to Bishop Bennison for confirmation, and by participating in an election to be Bishop of Forward in Faith/North America, the successor organization to the Episcopal Synod of America. Bishop Bennison responded by first inhibiting, and then deposing, Father Moyer, who retaliated with a civil lawsuit that, among other claims, challenged the propriety of using Canon IV.10 to depose him without a presentment and trial. (The current status of this lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in a few months, can be gleaned from the latest pretrial statement.)

At the time Bishop Bennison inhibited Father Moyer, it is believed that this is the first time that Canon IV.10 had been used against a priest who disagreed with his bishop's beliefs but who wanted to remain within the Anglican Communion. The current status of Forward in Faith is unclear: it wishes to become part of a new orthodox province of the Anglican Communion in America, but the recognition of a new province is solely within the competence of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates. Nevertheless, it clearly sees itself as in continuity with the orthodox traditions of the Anglican Communion.

Once Canon IV.10 had been applied against Father Moyer, other standing committees in other dioceses brought similar charges of "abandonment" against other priests for similar refusals to allow episcopal visits and to present candidates for confirmation. The cases of the Connecticut Six, of the eleven parishes and twenty clergy in the Diocese of Virginia, of the parishes in the Diocese of Los Angeles (where the ensuing lawsuit will be argued shortly in the California Supreme Court) and of San Diego, of the charges against Father Don Armstrong and his parish in the Diocese of Colorado, of Father Geromel in Eastern Michigan (where the bishop delayed imposition of inhibition and deposition for five years), of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia (the diocesan response is here), have all been in the news, along with many others. The most recent abuse---rather extraordinary in its scope---was the sacking of twenty-two priests under Canon IV.10 by Bishop John Howard, the diocesan of Central Florida. The latter act included the Bishop's and the diocesan Standing Committee's truly outrageous treatment of the 76-year-old Rev. Harald Haugan, who had served as a priest for nearly fifty years and who had been inactive and retired. Puzzled as to why they would think he had done anything that could be considered as "abandonment of communion", he wrote and asked them for an explanation. Three letters went unanswered, and the Bishop refused to elaborate on the "charges". Such are the machinations of blind power. [Update (05/08/08): The abuses continue---read about the foolish threats made by the Bishop of Colorado, the Rt. Rev. Rob O'Neill, against 18 former Episcopal priests, who are no longer subject to the his jurisdiction, here.]

Not content with deposing retired and inactive priests, TEC's Bishops have lately taken to threatening their colleagues with deposition under Canon IV.9. They ran roughshod over the Canon in claiming to have deposed Bishops Cox and Schofield, and signs of rebellion are beginning to be seen. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's threat to hold a meeting to depose Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh without the necessity of first inhibiting him is still on the table, although the hanging appears to have been postponed. And threats to depose the diocesans of Ft. Worth and Quincy are in the air. As I mentioned earlier, one needs to go back and read the comment of Prior McHugh quoted above to appreciate how far the situation in TEC has deteriorated in just the last thirty years.

TEC's Bishops who are taking these extreme actions maintain they are simply defending their diocesan territories. The problem, they say, is that when a priest withdraws from their jurisdiction to join, say, the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, he or she does not leave and go to Argentina, but stays and conducts services (say) in the Diocese of Los Angeles, just as before. Pardon my impertinence, but so what? They cannot prevent that from happening, can they, with all of their thunderbolts? How do their threats and depositions change the situation by one whit for the better? It is the souls of fellow Christians that are at stake here, not medieval concepts of territoriality. (Depositions do not prevent the breakup of diocesan territory; they most likely exacerbate it.) Given that realization, one might think that TEC's bishops could take the Christian route, and issue letters dimissory . . . .

In all of these inhibitions and subsequent depositions, we see the results of treating the joining of other provinces of the Anglican Communion as equivalent to "abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church." What TEC and her bishops are saying by these actions is that the only communion that matters to TEC is a communion subject to TEC's Constitution and Canons---the rest of the Anglican Communion can go hang, for all the comity that TEC cares to show to it. And as for the care of souls---the less said, the better.

TEC's Bishops have now rewritten Canons IV.9 and IV.10 so that they equate "abandonment of communion" not only with joining the Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox Church, but also with joining the Anglican Church of Uganda, or the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. This turns the canons into measures like those of the Anglican Church of Canada, which do not differentiate between joining another religious body that is in communion with the Canadian Church, and one that is not---both acts are equally subject to inhibition and deposition for "abandonment". (Most recently, the Canadian canons were used in this way to threaten the 82-year-old evangelist Dr. J. I. Packer with inhibition.)

We should truly be cautious before proceeding down Canada's path. What is happening in front of our eyes with all of the inhibitions and depositions is the balkanization of the Anglican Communion, in violation of the very principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral which lie at its heart. Soon, each province of the Communion will have two classes of clergy: those who are licensed to practice in that province, and those who cannot, but who are licensed elsewhere, even though they live and minister in the province in question. Once that happens, what can one say is left of the Anglican Communion? It will have become a tradition, in Hamlet's sad words, that is "more honor'd in the breach than the observance . . .".

1 comment:

  1. Another excellent posting.

    "Given that realization, one might think that TEC's bishops could take the Christian route, and issue letters dimissory..."

    Why, therefore have they taken the current route? Perhaps they have swallowed the party line that the current dissenters represent a small minority and will be gotten rid of easily.

    Your history shows that this is unlike prior divisions and is more like Yugoslavia...

    "What is happening in front of our eyes with all of the inhibitions and depositions is the balkanization of the Anglican Communion..."

    Okay, now who is going to be the Slobodan Milosevic, and who is going to be the NATO and the President Clinton in this analogy?