Thursday, September 18, 2008

What Have They Wrought?

Despite last-minute pleas for reason and common sense to prevail, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has voted to depose Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, by a recorded vote of 88 to 35, with four abstentions. It is now appropriate to ask: what have they accomplished? What have they wrought?

(Note: my use of the pronoun "they" in this post refers only to the majority, and not to the courageous 35 who voted against the tyranny of the majority. My hat goes off to the latter.)

1. Have they in fact legally deposed him? No. The motion in fact failed, for lack of the required number of those in favor. Counting active and retired bishops, there are approximately 300 bishops entitled to a seat and vote in the House (there were 294 as of the last meeting, in March). Given what the plain language of the Canon has always required, there needed to be at least 151 or so bishops present at the meeting and all voting "Yes" for the consent to deposition to take effect.

2. Did they even try to follow the Canon? No. The announcement of the meeting on August 20 contained no hint of any vote to consent to deposition being on the agenda. It was only on September 12---five days before the meeting began---that the plan for the vote to be held was announced. So there was no attempt, not even a pretense of going through the motions, to do what was necessary to have the required number of bishops in attendance.

3. Were the parliamentary rulings announced in advance of the meeting valid? No. The announcement that they would require only a simple majority of those present and voting was an admission of their cowardice in failing to call together the number of bishops that the Canon requires. And both that ruling, as well as the ruling that the deposition could go forward despite there having been no previous inhibition of Bishop Duncan, were based on the Chancellor's and the Parliamentarian's resolution of what were claimed to be ambiguities in the language of the Canon.

NEWSFLASH for the Chancellor and the Parliamentarian: The House of Bishops governs itself by Roberts Rules of Order in situations not expressly addressed by the House's own rules. And Roberts Rules Revised (latest [10th] edition) provides, at page 573:
Each society decides for itself the meaning of its bylaws [here: Canons]. . . . An ambiguity must exist before there is any occasion for interpretation. . . . Again, intent plays no role unless the meaning is unclear or uncertain, but where an ambiguity exists, a majority vote is all that is required to decide the question.
(Emphasis added.) So neither the Chancellor nor the Parliamentarian was allowed to decide the question of "ambiguity" in advance of the meeting---no one, not even the Chair, was so authorized. The question was required to be put to the meeting itself for a vote (but only if there was an ambiguity in the first place!), and that was not done---instead, the Chair made "rulings", both in advance and in the meeting, and the appeals from the rulings were denied, by voice vote. So now we have another canonical (parliamentary) violation to add to the catalog.

4. Have they managed to stop the vote to amend Pittsburgh's Diocesan Constitution from taking place? No, again. The Standing Committee will temporarily replace the Bishop, as the Constitution provides, and the Convention will go forward as scheduled.

5. Have they achieved a self-fulfilling prophecy, in making inevitable the withdrawal of the Diocese from TEC that they wanted to prevent? Emphatically, YES!

So it is that we may ask, not with Samuel F. B. Morse, "What hath God wrought?", but instead:

"What have they wrought?"

Well, whatever it is, it is entirely of their own making. One of the Bishops who voted to depose is reported to have said, after the vote: "Our decisions today were very difficult and came out of our deep love for our Church, a commitment to honor our ordination vows, and a desire to strengthen the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” (I have added the emphasis.)

UPDATE 09/19/2008: Continuing with the consequences of what they have wrought, they now evidently plan to "strengthen" the "Diocese of Pittsburgh" after it has left TEC by "reconstituting the Standing Committee." Do they not even see the contradiction there? If the Diocese has left, no Diocese remains to have a "reconstituted Standing Committee," unless and until a new unincorporated association is organized under Pennsylvania law and can meet and elect one. And then it will have to apply to General Convention to be admitted as a full Diocese---something that cannot happen before July 2009. (For details, see this earlier post. I do not claim to know any Pennsylvania law, and am open to correction here by someone who does, but I would be surprised to learn that the law of unincorporated associations is different in Pennsylvania from everywhere else.) This is exactly what landed TEC in difficulty in San Joaquin, and now they are repeating the same mistakes all over again!

Quos deus vult perdere prius dementat.

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