(NEW YORK, N.Y.) In a bizarre incident this afternoon at Episcopal Church headquarters at 815 Second Avenue, the Presiding Bishop was strangled in her office by two large Canon-snakes that entered through a heating duct after they dislodged the grate covering it. Officials were at a loss to describe how such a tragedy could occur. After finishing their deed, the two Canon-snakes apparently slithered away again through the duct before anyhone could stop them.
"We were powerless to help her," said one official who did not give his name. "We heard her cry out, and rushed in to find these two huge snakes wrapping themselves around her. There was nothing we could do. It was all over in a minute or so."
Asked how he could identify the snakes, the official responded: "Oh, they were Canon-snakes, all right. One of the secretaries fortunately had been reading G.K. Chesterton, and immediately called in Father Brown to investigate. He told us that's what they were. He was even able to identify them by the marks they left on her collar. One was a 'Canon IV'-snake, and the other a 'Canon III'-snake."
The official was initially unable to supply us with any more information than that. Later, however, he forwarded to us the following report of the tragic event made by Father Brown:
I was called in to New York earlier today to consult on a most unusual incident. A high official in the Episcopal Church had been strangled in her office. Witnesses reported seeing two large snakes do the deed, and then disappear through the heating duct. Because of the high office held by the individual, I immediately suspected abuse of the Canons, since from the description given it sounded like an attack of Canon-snakes.
I was able to verify my hypothesis from a close examination of the clerical collar worn by the victim. On one side there were three fang marks, and on the other side I found four. I called for the latest edition of the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons. They gave me the victim's own personal desk copy, which had a number of revealing interlineations and marginal notes that eventually helped me solve the case.
I asked to see the Bishop's Parliamentarian. On inquiring of him, I learned that the victim had most recently invoked Canon III.12.7 in the case of a Bishop from a diocese in the State of Texas which had, a few weeks earlier, canceled its affiliation with the Episcopal Church in order to affiliate with another Anglican church. He told me that she apparently had taken a press release issued by that Bishop and read it as a "letter of renunciation" within the meaning of that Canon, which says:
"If any Bishop of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to record the declaration and request so made . . ."
I consulted the victim's copy of the Canons again, and asked the Parliamentarian if the victim had previously invoked a different Canon against that same Bishop. He looked surprised, but told me that yes, she had announced his inhibition under Canon IV.9 immediately after the diocese in question voted to withdraw from the Church. "But that is the abandonment canon," I said. "That canon is used only for clerics who join us---the Roman Catholic Church, and not for the ones who stay in the Anglican Communion!"
"Yes," he replied, "but anyone who leaves the Episcopal Church violates its 'discipline' regardless of where they end up, so we use that Canon to depose them quickly, since it can be done without a trial. And the Presiding Bishop and I decided, along with the Chancellor, that depositions can also be done with a bare majority of the Bishops showing up at a meeting, so that made it our favorite Canon."
"But don't you see the abuse you---she--made of the Canons?" I cried. (For the cause of the strangulation was now glaringly evident to me.) "First, she charged him with a violation of the discipline of the Church under Canon IV.9. That is a presentable offense, but as you say, Canon IV.9 conveniently allows you to dispense with a presentment and trial. If the Bishop does not retract, you can remove him forthwith.
"Then, however, before she could get around to deposing him, she made the huge mistake of reading his press release as a 'letter of renunciation' under Canon III.12.7."
"Why was that a mistake?" the Parliamentarian asked. "It saved us having to wait another four months until we could depose him at the next meeting of the House of Bishops."
"It was a mistake---a huge mistake, as you see here before you. That act angered St. Raymond of Peñafort, the patron saint of canon law, and he sent the canon-snakes to remove the cleric who had given such offense to the spirit of the canons."
"But why? I still don't understand."
"Look at the language (which I have quoted above). Canon III.12.7 says by its own terms that it cannot be used in the case of any person who 'is subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8.' The canons in Title IV all deal with punishment for violations of the Canons. The canons in Title III, however, have to do with the ordinary life and ministry of the clergy, not with punishment.
"By first invoking Title IV against the Texas bishop, she charged him with a presentable offense. Then, however, she resorted to Title III so she could get rid of him a little sooner. That was 'a big no-no', as you Americans are wont to say, because by using Title III she exonerated him of the charges she had made under Title IV---without actually announcing that she had done so, and without apologizing for invoking Title IV in the first place.
"And when you manipulate the Canons like that, if you do it once too often---well, let's just say that Raymond has the patience of a Saint, but even a Saint can be tested too far."
The Parliamentarian responded: "What can we do now?"
"There's nothing to be done, now. What's done is done. But as the folks over at the Anglican Communion Institute will tell you, you've handed the withdrawing diocese a huge concession by invoking Title III. In effect, you have conceded that the diocese's withdrawal did not violate any canons of the Church."
At that point the Parliamentarian fainted. After calling for assistance, I left to write up this report.
/Signed/ Father Brown