Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bishop Wantland Knows His Canons

The Diocese of Ft. Worth having voted last weekend to leave The Episcopal Church to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone, there follows on the heels of this action the news that one of its assisting bishops, the Rt. Rev. William J. Wantland, the former diocesan of Eau Claire, has sent a letter to the Presiding Bishop asking that he be allowed to assume the status of a honorary member of the House of Bishops in The Episcopal Church.

Bishop Wantland is an expert in canon law, and in this shrewd move he demonstrates again that expertise. For it perfectly throws back on the Presiding Bishop and her coterie the hypocrisy of their bogus "depositions" of Bishops Cox, Schofield and Duncan---and soon probably of Bishop Iker as well---for allegedly "abandoning the communion of this Church."

At the Presiding Bishop's request, the House consented to "depose" Bishop Cox for performing episcopal acts for another province of the Anglican Communion; to "depose" Bishop Schofield for leading his diocese out of TEC for another province of the Anglican Communion; and to "depose" Bishop Duncan for so much as even thinking about and planning to have his diocese leave TEC for another province in the Anglican Communion. Now Bishop Iker's diocese, the Diocese of Ft. Worth, has also voted to leave, and even though he is no longer subject to TEC's jurisdiction, no doubt the Title IV Review Committee will soon dutifully lay charges before the Presiding Bishop so that she can first inhibit him, and then have him "deposed" at the next meeting of the House of Bishops.

As a bishop assisting in the Diocese of Ft. Worth, Bishop Wantland wants to stay with his diocese even though it has left the Episcopal Church. So he has invoked a little-known provision in the General Rules of the House of Bishops, which reads as follows (part of Rule XXIV):
. . . any Bishop of this Church who removed from the jurisdiction of this Church to the jurisdiction of a Church in the Anglican Communion may be continued in relationship to this House as an honorary member. Thirty days prior to each stated or called meeting of the House such honorary members shall give written notice of their intention to be present to the Presiding Officer of this House. Seat and voice shall then be accorded such honorary members, upon the nomination to the House by the Presiding Officer. No vote shall be accorded the honorary member.
Fits the situation at hand perfectly, does it not? By the actions of his diocese, Bishop Wantland has been "removed from the jurisdiction of this Church to the jurisdiction of a Church [the Province of the Southern Cone] in the Anglican Communion." This Rule lets him ask to remain affiliated with the House of Bishops as an honorary member, with seat and voice but no vote. (There will be be taken up for second reading at GC2009 next June a proposed Constitutional amendment [Res. A020 at GC2006] to confine the right to vote in the House just "to all bishops with jurisdiction, Bishops Coadjutor, Bishops Suffragan, Assistant Bishops and every bishop holding an office created by General Convention." This amendment, when passed, will deprive all "resigned" [i.e., retired] Bishops of their present right to vote.)

Thus it will be most interesting to see how the Presiding Bishop treats his request. I do not mean to ask what will happen if Bishop Wantland gives the required notice that he plans to attend the next meeting of the House, because the Rule states that no action on the request is required unless and until he actually shows up for the meeting in question. (Should he do so, the Rule provides only that the Presiding Officer of the House at the meeting "nominate" him for honorary membership; it is unclear whether a vote on the nomination would be taken.) No, what I see taking place is something more important: by sending the letter and announcing his desire to assume the status of an honorary member, Bishop Wantland has cut the procedural legs out from any move to depose him as a bishop for "abandonment of communion".

Think about it: the Rule clearly makes provision for a member of the House of Bishops to change his status, upon his having "removed from the jurisdiction of this Church to the jurisdiction of a Church in the Anglican Communion", from that of a regular to an honorary member. No resignation is required, since the bishop in question is still acting as a bishop of his diocese---just in another Church in the Anglican Communion. Nor is a legal deposition of the bishop so removed possible, since he is no longer subject to "the jurisdiction of this Church."

The House has clearly made provision for just such an event, by recognizing that the bishop in question, while no longer eligible to be a member, and not subject either to deposition or mandatory resignation, might desire to continue his affiliation with his former colleagues. And for that purpose it created the category of honorary membership. Having made express provision for just such an occurrence, it would be arbitrary and capricious to deny the benefit of the Rule to one of its own members. That is why I say it will be very interesting "to see how the Presiding Bishop treats his request."

If she purports to entertain charges of "abandonment", and to inhibit him preparatory to asking the House to consent to his deposition, he can with perfect aplomb respond: "I haven't abandoned any communion---I want to remain affiliated with the House, and to that end, I am following the canons and the Rules of the House to the letter. I ask that you do so as well."

Brilliant move, Bishop Wantland! The ball is now in the Presiding Bishop's court. Does anyone want to bet what she will do with it?


  1. Would it also make sense for Bishop Iker to submit such a request?

  2. Perpetua, there would be nothing in the Rule that would prevent Bishop Iker from making such a request, no. However, from reading his interview with Greg Griffith, I did not get the impression that he wants to remain in an affiliation of any kind with the House of Bishops. So I expect he will not make the request.

  3. Seems clear. But we have seen the PB's record of interpreting seemingly clear canons in her own best interest, so I doubt the process will be honored in the way you lay out.

  4. It seems highly doubtful that the Presiding Bishop will either reply or nominate him as an honorary bishop to the House of Bishops. Nothing in the canon mandates either response.

  5. Scott K and Randy: perhaps I have not made myself clear. I actually agree with both of you that the PB will probably do nothing with his request---but then, I doubt that Bishop Wantland will put her to the test by actually giving notice that he plans to show up for a meeting, either.

    My point was rather this: given the letter and the request, how could she and her loyal following now move to "depose" Bishop Wantland for "abandoning" the communion of this Church, when the HoB's own rules provide for a bishop in +Wantland's position to assume "honorary" status in the House? If they do so move, their arbitrary use of their canons will be plain to every pewsitter in the Church.

  6. I don't wish to belabor this overly much, but I think she and her loyal following could still move to "depose" Bishop Wantland for "abandoning" the communion of this Church, because the HoB's rules presume that a honorary bishop in +Wantland's position are in "good standing", because the Presiding Bishop would never nominate anyone who was not in good standing.

    It could also be argued that ECUSA is not in communion with Southern Cone, despite the fact that ECUSA has not explicitly broken communion with them.

    ECUSA deposing those bishops for joining the Southern Cone is equivalent to ECUSA having broken communion with the Southern Cone ipso facto.

  7. All of it makes you rethink what soon-to-be-blessed Cardinal Newman must have been thinking about when he was received in Rome.