In a display of now unparalleled and unprecedented lawlessness for an ordained bishop, the Primate of All the Episcopal Church (USA) has thrown down the gauntlet to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion as a whole. She has declared that on the basis of a letter written to her by the Rt. Rev. Henry Scriven, the former Assistant Bishop of Pittsburgh, on October 16, 2008, she has "accepted [his] renunciation of the Ordained Ministry of this Church . . . [and that he] is, therefore, removed from the Ordained Ministry of this Church and released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred on him in Ordinations."
What makes this move on the Primate's part so outlandish is that Bishop Scriven has not been canonically resident in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Episcopal Church (USA) since October 4, 2008, when the Diocese voted by a sizeable majority to withdraw from ECUSA and affiliate temporarily with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Details are not clear at this writing, but if events happened as they should have, Bishop Scriven would have received at that point a license from the Most Reverend Gregory Venables. (It is not known whether Bishop Duncan gave Letters Dimissory to Bishop Scriven before the former's "deposition" by the ECUSA House of Bishops on September 18, 2008.) At any rate, Bishop Scriven became for the time being a member of the House of Bishops of the Province of the Southern Cone, and in that capacity continued to assist in the Diocese of Pittsburgh through December 2008. He conducted, for example, an ordination of the Rev. Aaron Carpenter at St. Philip's Church in Moon Township, Pittsburgh, on December 9.
On January 1, 2009, Bishop Scriven, having moved back to England, took up new duties with the South American Mission Society (SAMS) as it began a new phase of joint operations with the Church Missionary Society in South America. Bishop Scriven had formerly been a missionary with SAMS in Argentina and then in Spain, before becoming the Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. He also served on the board of directors for SAMS (USA), which has its headquarters in Pittsburgh. Once again, if standard procedures were followed, Bishop Duncan as his reinstated diocesan would have issued him Letters Dimissory, and Bishop Scriven would have transferred his canonical residency back to England in order to take up his duties there. (Conceivably he might also choose to remain canonically resident under Bishop Duncan in the Southern Cone; it would be his decision.)
There are two things, nevertheless, that are certain in this episode. The first is that there is no possible way that Bishop Scriven was still subject to the jurisdiction of the American Primate on January 15, when she signed her Notice of Renunciation. The second is that there was no language of renunciation of orders in the letter that Bishop Scriven wrote to her, informing her of his transfer, on October 16---just twelve days after the Diocese voted to affiliate with the Southern Cone.
I assume that the problem here is self-inflicted on the part of ECUSA and its Primate. When Bishop Scriven assumed his duties in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in September 2002, he transferred his canonical residency there from England, and thus became subject to the jurisdiction of ECUSA. He also became a member of ECUSA's House of Bishops. Relationships became strained in the House after its ratification of the election of V. Gene Robinson in July 2003, followed by his consecration in November. (At the 2006 General Convention, Bishop Scriven reported that he considered himself "not in communion with" those bishops who had taken part in Bishop Robinson's consecration.) By 2008, neither Bishop Duncan nor Bishop Scriven was attending meetings of the House of Bishops. Nevertheless, both were still on the rolls of the House, and also enrolled in the Church Pension Fund.
By pushing ahead with their illegal deposition of Bishop Duncan on September 18, the Bishops created a bit of a housekeeping problem. Their "deposition" of Bishop Duncan had removed him from the rolls, and notice of his deposition was sent to the Church Pension Fund, so that it could stop accruing his pension. However, it also had removed the ability of Bishop Duncan to certify to the Church in accordance with the provisions of Canon I.1.6 (b) (6) that his assistant, Bishop Scriven, had transferred to the Southern Cone. And when the Diocese voted to withdraw two weeks later, its Standing Committee could no longer perform that function either, in the eyes of ECUSA.
Thus when Bishop Scriven himself wrote to the Primate on October 16 to inform her of the transfer (he was not "resigning", since he was staying on as Assistant Bishop to the Diocese), she was faced with a bureaucratic quandary of ECUSA's own making. Under the Church Canons, Bishop Scriven could not accrue any pension rights once he was no longer canonically resident in a Diocese of ECUSA. However, some official way was needed to inform the Church Pension Fund of that fact. One would think that simply forwarding to them a copy of Bishop Scriven's letter would accomplish that task. But no: this is a Primate who on random occasions takes her Canons very seriously, and interprets them to the letter. This was one of those occasions.
Canon I.1.6 is very clear that the notification of the transfer has to come from either the Diocesan Bishop or, if there is no such person, from the Standing Committee of the Diocese. Now the Primate of all ECUSA eventually announced, after the events of October 4, that she was bestowing her gracious Primatial recognition upon the Reverend Dr. James Simons, and two other persons he nominated, as the successor to the Standing Committee affiliated with "Mr. Duncan and his followers". (You see, ECUSA was stymied---they could not even admit that a "diocese" had left it, so they could scarcely recognize that there even was a "Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone", let alone a diocese of that name which had retained the word "Episcopal" in its name.) But Dr. Simons or his Committee could scarcely certify the transfer, since they had not signed the Letters Dimissory. So what to do?
The Primate of all ECUSA had received Bishop Scriven's letter shortly after October 16, 2008. She signed the certificate of his "renunciation" on January 15, 2009---some three months later. We have to presume that she spent the ninety days consulting with the members of her Council of Advice, along with her Chancellor (who also advises the Council of Advice---now there's independent advice for you!). And in this same 90-day period there happened to occur an event which furnished a precedent for what the Primate of all ECUSA wanted to do: her decision to accept the "renunciation" of the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker of Fort Worth.
You see, Bishop Iker had not even written the Primate of all ECUSA a letter; the only thing he had done was issue a press release in response to her attempt to declare him "inhibited" from performing his episcopal functions---after he had already transferred to the Province of the Southern Cone. But the Primate declared that the press release, in which Bishop Iker made the simple observation that the Primate had "no jurisdiction" over him, constituted a declaration, "in writing, to the Presiding Bishop of the renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom", and so satisfied the express language of Canon III.12.7 (a). Accordingly, she signed a certificate of his renunciation, published it, and circulated it to all of the Church authorities, as required and specified by Canon III.12.7 (c), including the Church Pension Fund. (Notably, she did not say in the certificate that the renunciation had been made to her---only that it was "in writing". From this example alone you can begin to see her selective interpretation of the Canons when it suits her purposes.)
So that took care of Bishop Iker, and got him off the rolls. The thought must then have occurred to the Primate of all ECUSA (or was perhaps suggested to her by her Chancellor): why can she not follow the same procedure with Bishop Scriven? He actually sent her a letter---that's more than Bishop Iker did. And he says he is going to another Province, so that amounts to a "renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church"---problem solved!
However, as I mentioned, this particular Primate decides on random occasions, and even as she is wildly interpreting the Canons to achieve her desired ends (of removing, in this instance, unwanted clergy from the Church Pension Fund rolls), to follow the canons to the letter. Canon III.12.7 (a) spells out the exact language to be used in a declaration or certificate of renunciation, as follows:
The Presiding Bishop, being satisfied that the person so declaring is not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 but is acting voluntarily and for causes, assigned or known, which do not affect the person's moral character, shall lay the matter before the Advisory Council to the Presiding Bishop, and with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the Advisory Council the Presiding Bishop may pronounce that such renunciation is accepted, and that the Bishop is released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordinations.So that is exactly what the Primate put in her certificate of "renunciation." What does it matter to her if the language makes it appear that a person who has decided only to transfer their Ministry to another Province of the Anglican Communion has actually given up ever again acting as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church into which they were ordained? "They left our Church, so that is their problem," appears to be her attitude. "I am only following the Canons." (Father Mark Harris, a member of the Executive Council, would seem to agree with her.)
It is arrogant enough of a gesture in the case of Bishop Scriven, who was ordained in the Church of England and could in no conceivable way be deprived of his ordained Ministry by an act of ECUSA's Primate after he left ECUSA's jurisdiction. After all, the news of the sweeping pronouncement, which assumes on its face an extraprovincial jurisdiction that does not and could never exist in the Anglican Communion, comes just one week before a gathering of all of the Communion's Primates in Egypt. There the Primate of all ECUSA will have to look her colleagues in the eye and explain: "It was something I had to do---otherwise there was no way to remove him from our pension rolls. The times are tight, you know."
But that explanation has its priorities backwards: to save face with her Pension Fund, the Primate has to declare the Bishop of another Church deprived of the right to exercise his gifts and spiritual authority? I don't think it passes even the smell test; in fact, as an explanation it stinks. And as a demonstration of comity with the rest of the Communion, it is completely beyond the pale. Why does she want to do this? Others have speculated that she simply wants to poke the Archbishop of Canterbury in the eye with a sharp stick, but I think that reads far too much into the situation. No, what I see is a low-class manipulator who simply finds nothing wrong with twisting the Canons to her purpose as and when she perceives the need to do so, and who is surprised that anyone might ever call her out about it. Hypocrisy? Never heard of it---no more than has her Chancellor.
But we have saved the best of this story for last. For at the same time she purported to accept Bishop Scriven's "renunciation", she also decided she could use the same method to dispose of another knotty problem. Following the vote by the Diocese of Ft. Worth in November 2008 to leave the Church, its Assistant Bishop, the Rt. Rev. William Wantland (Ret.), who is a canon lawyer of high ability, wrote a very carefully worded letter to the Presiding Bishop. It said, in pertinent part (with emphasis added):
I am not resigning my Orders, nor am I abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church, being a member of a sister Province of the Anglican Communion, in compliance with the provisions of Canon IV.9. However, because I am no longer a member of The Episcopal Church, although residing within its jurisdiction in Oklahoma, I am no longer eligible to be a regular member of its House of Bishops. I therefore request that I be admitted as an honorary member of the (TEC) House of Bishops [pursuant to House of Bishops Rule XXIV].So how did the Primate of all ECUSA read this letter? As saying the exact opposite of what it says. To her bizarre way of thinking, it read: "I am resigning my Orders, and I am abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church. So there!" What is more, she got her Council of Advice to agree with that reading! On January 15, the same day as she signed Bishop Scriven's certificate of "renunciation", she signed an identical certificate as to Bishop Wantland. Here is her incredible explanation for that inexplicable act, with appropriate emphases added:
In a letter to me of November 15, 2008, the Rt. Rev. William Wantland stated that as a result of the Diocese of Ft. Worth's recent attempt to realign with the Province of the Southern Cone, "I am . . . now canonically affiliated with the Southern Cone and its Primate, The Most Rev. Gregory Venables." Bishop Wantland then declared that "I am no longer a member of the Episcopal Church." These statements make clear that Bishop Wantland has chosen to leave the Episcopal Church and that he no longer wishes to carry out the responsibilities of ordained ministry in this Church. Accordingly, I have, with the consent of my Council of Advice, chosen this day to accept Bishop Wantland's voluntary renunciation of his Orders in the Episcopal Church and have removed and released him from our ordained ministry.
Truly an unbelievable performance; ECUSA cannot pay anyone enough to come up with such 1984-style doublespeak. She takes Bishop Wantland's actual language ("I am not resigning my orders . . . However, because I am no longer a member of the Episcopal Church . . .") and selectively quotes from it to imply that what it says is: "I am no longer a member of the Episcopal Church, and therefore I renounce my Orders." This is the stuff of which legends are made.
More legendary still, however, will be Bishop Wantland's cursory reply to this outrage. It bids fair, in fact to go down in history with German composer Max Reger's famous reply to an equally unfortunate provocation, from a music critic: "I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review before me. Soon it will be behind me . . .".
Here, as a fitting close to this post, is Bishop Wantland's unforgettable riposte to the insult emailed (!) to him by the Primate of all ECUSA. The invoking of the Ninth Commandment is indelibly apt in this situation, while the last paragraph alone is priceless:
This will acknowledge electronic receipt on this date of a letter apparently not mailed to me, but dated January 15, 2009, purporting to "accept" my letter to you dated November 15, 2008 as a Renunciation of my Orders.
As you must know, my letter specifically declared that "I am not resigning my Orders". Nowhere do I renounce or resign my Orders. My letter to you in no way comports with the provisions of Canon III. 12. 7. Further, I specifically requested status in the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in conformity with Rule XXIV of the House of Bishops. This request has been totally ignored by you.
I can only conclude that either you (1) do not understand the plain and fairly simple language of either the Canons or my letter to you, or (2) have deliberately violated the Canons for your own purposes and contrary to your obligation as a Christian not to bear false witness. Further, as you acknowledge in your cover letter that I have transferred to another Province of the Anglican Communion, you therefore have absolutely no jurisdiction over me or my ministry, and your purported action of January 15, 2009, is simply null and void.
I would request a response, indicating whether you lack a basic understanding of the English language, or choose to engage in illegal activities. There is no other possible rational interpretation of your actions.
The Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland
UPDATE 01/24/2009: Another canon law specialist (and a good friend), suggests the following perfect solution for our Perplexed Primate.
Since she takes the position that she has the power as Presiding Bishop to assume control of Dioceses whose leadership she has decapitated, the solution is obvious: as "the Ecclesiastical Authority" of the now vacated Diocese, she can simply sign Letters Dimissory for the departed clergy and make the required report to the authorities under Canon I.1.6 herself. In fact, she is being inconsistent with her own position on the matter when she neglects to do so. End of problem.
Of course, she might not like the next logical step in that solution, but if she can't bring herself to it, then she really is on a pure play for power, for its own sake. For the truth is that if she could sign Letters Dimissory for the departing clergy, then there would be no need for her to depose them, or to make believe she is accepting their "renunciations", in the first place. She would simply recognize (she is good at that) that they have left the Diocese in question, assume the Ecclesiastical Authority for the time being, and sign the necessary Letters Dimissory. What would be wrong with that? A win-win for everyone concerned.
There you go, 815---solid and sound legal advice, free of charge. (In the spirit of getting things back on track, canonically speaking, it is offered as a pro bono service to my Church.)