But I have seen no commentary or mention to date of what I regard as the single most drastic and isolationist proposal of all with regard to the Title IV Canons. The change I am referring to is a single, subtle modification of the language of the two Canons (IV.9 and IV.10) which deal with the subject of "Abandonment of Communion".
I have written extensively on the history and abuses of these two Canons in ECUSA; in fact, you will find a whole page devoted to them in the "Guide to This Site" at the right. (I suggest you review that page as an introduction to what follows.)
In order to understand the magnitude of the changes which ECUSA is proposing to make to just these two Canons, I first need to clear away some confusion that has arisen out on the Web about what is not being changed. I was following this morning the comments on a post over at StandFirm which quoted Still on Patrol to the effect that the revisions propose to expand the definition of abandonment by adding the little phrase "or in any other way", presumably so as not to have to define the particulars any further than they have already. But this is not accurate.
Let me quote for you the current version of Section 1 of Canon IV.10, dealing with the "Abandonment of Communion" by a Priest or Deacon:
If it is reported to the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which a Priest or Deacon is canonically resident that the Priest or Deacon, without using the provisions of Canon IV.8 or III.7.8-10 and III.9.8-11, has abandoned the Communion of this Church, then the Standing Committee shall ascertain and consider the facts, and if it shall determine by a vote of three-fourths of All the Members that the Priest or Deacon has abandoned the Communion of this Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or by a formal admission into any religious body not in communion with this Church, or in any other way, it shall be the duty of the Standing Committee of the Diocese to transmit in writing to the Bishop of such Diocese, or if there be no such Bishop, to the Bishop of an adjacent Diocese, its determination, together with a statement setting out in reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon in making its determination. . . .
So as you can see from my bolding, the phrase "or in any other way" is already in the text of Canon IV.10. In fact, Messrs. White & Dykman confirm that the phrase was added to the canon in 1874, right on the heels of the debacle over the the attempts to discipline those who left to found the Reformed Episcopal Church. We have, in other words, lived under this broad definition of "abandonment of communion" for 135 years. The proposed changes to Title IV do not alter this language, and so we will undoubtedly live under it for a good many years more.
It does say something, however, to note that the little phrase "or in any other way" was not added in 1874 to the Abandonment Canon which deals with Bishops (Canon IV.9). No, the definition of "abandonment" for Bishops is (supposedly, at any rate) more narrowly confined to just the methods stated:
CANON 9: Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop
Sec. 1. If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, or (iii) by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in this Church; it shall be the duty of the Review Committee, by a majority vote of All the Members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church, shall then inhibit the said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. During the period of Inhibition, the Bishop shall not perform any episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of which the Bishop holds jurisdiction or in which the Bishop is then serving.
This little difference between the wording of the two Canons reflects the power differences in the relationship between bishops and their clergy and the relationship of bishops with each other. When it comes to disciplining their clergy, bishops must have the widest latitude to press charges --- and the Abandonment Canon for Clergy (Canon IV.10, quoted above) has been greatly abused in recent times, as I documented here. But when it comes to disciplining themselves, bishops are supposedly dealing with their equals, and so dignity demands that the basis for any charge be spelled out in advance. (That, too, however, has not stopped the House of Bishops from abusing other language in Section 2 of the Canon, as you can read about in the posts linked from this page.)
The proposed revisions to all of Title IV are embodied in Resolution A 185. One might have thought that these carefully deliberated changes, which have been in the works since 2003, would have laid to rest the ambiguity about the number of bishops required to vote in favor of deposing a colleague. As we know from the notorious abuses in the cases of Bishops Cox, Schofield, and Duncan, the phrase "a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote in the House of Bishops" was arbitrarily read by the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor to mean only those Bishops who were actually present in the House at the time, instead of meaning all Bishops who had a right to vote, whether present at that meeting or not. (I say "arbitrarily", because on virtually the same day the Presiding Bishop was telling the House about her Chancellor's reading of the language in overruling the objections made to going forward with the vote on Bishop Duncan, that same Chancellor was telling the Circuit Court in Virginia that the language meant exactly the opposite.) However, if one had thought they might clear things up by amending the language of the Canon, one would have been wrong.
The solution to the problem lies instead in amending the Constitution so as definitively and finally to deprive all Bishops who have resigned their jurisdictions (i.e., retired) of any right to vote in the House of Bishops. So that amendment (which will pass its second reading at this session, as is required for all amendments to the Constitution) will take care of that.
Having cleared away that underbrush, let us now come to the main point. Let me quote to you the proposed revision to Section 1 of the Canon that will deal with the Abandonment by the Clergy, so that you can see exactly what the drafters propose to change (it receives a new number in the overall scheme: it will become Canon 16, Section 3):
(B) By a Priest or DeaconThere is that phrase again --- "or in any other way" ---so as you can see, they do not propose any change in that regard. So just what is this monumental change of which I speak? Let me give you now the text of the proposed revision to the Canon dealing with Abandonment by a Bishop, and see whether you catch it:
Sec. 3 If it is reported to the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which a Priest or Deacon is canonically resident that the Priest or Deacon, without using the provisions of Canon III.7.8-10 or III.9.8-11, has abandoned The Episcopal Church, then the Standing Committee shall ascertain and consider the facts, and if it shall determine by a vote of three-fourths of all the members that the Priest or Deacon has abandoned The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or worship of the Church, or by the formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the Church, or in any other way, it shall be the duty of the Standing Committee of the Diocese to transmit in writing to the Bishop Diocesan, or if there be no such Bishop, to the Bishop Diocesan of an adjacent Diocese, its determination, together with a statement setting out in reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon in making its determination. If the Bishop Diocesan affirms the determination, the Bishop Diocesan shall place a restriction on the exercise of ministry by that Priest or Deacon for sixty days and shall send to the Priest or Deacon a copy of the determination and statement, together with a notice that the Priest or Deacon has the rights specified in Section 2 and at the end of the sixty day period the Bishop Diocesan will consider deposing the Priest or Deacon in accordance with the provisions of Section 4.
(A) By a Bishop
Sec. 1 If a Bishop abandons The Episcopal Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church; or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same; or (iii) by exercising Episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the Church or another church in communion with the Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as the Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in the Church, it shall be the duty of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, by a majority vote of all of its members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop shall then place a restriction on the exercise of ministry of said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. During the period of such restriction, the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.
Do you see it now? For those who do not, not to worry --- you are in good company, because as I say, I have not seen any other commentary that points to the change I am describing. Let me make it perfectly plain for anyone to see, by quoting the current and the new language in parallel (the old is in blue, the new is in red):
Current Language (Priest)
If . . . [a] Priest or Deacon . . . has abandoned the Communion of this Church . . .
Current Language (Bishop)
If a Bishop abandons the communion [sic] of this Church . . .
Proposed New Language (Priest)
If . . . a Priest or Deacon . . . has abandoned The Episcopal Church . . .
Proposed New Language (Bishop)
If a Bishop abandons The Episcopal Church . . .
They are proposing to drop just the three little words "Communion of this . . .", and to replace them with just one word: "Episcopal". To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, "That's one small step for a church, but one giant leap away from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."
With that single change, buried in the midst of thousands and thousands of words revising Title IV, the leadership of ECUSA will accomplish the goal toward which it has been striving ever since 1976: a complete and final divorce of its polity and orders from the rest of the Anglican Communion, and in consequence from the Church Catholic as well.
No longer will it be possible, after these changes are voted (and they will be, without any doubt: how could they go back on the strategy at this point?), for Episcopal clergy to avoid a charge of "abandonment" when they seek to transfer to another church within the Anglican Communion. No longer will anyone refer to these Canons as the "Abandonment of Communion" Canons; they become the "Abandonment of ECUSA" Canons. The Communion, as such, is through, as far as ECUSA is concerned. Finito. Not "Ite - missa est", but Ite - finis est.
It matters nothing that they are retaining the old words of the definition: "by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same . . .". That language, as I explained in this earlier post, has been read out of the Canons by the depositions of Bishops Cox and Schofield, and by the deposition of literally hundreds of clergy since. It simply is ignored, and will continue to be ignored. All that future Standing Committees will ask, and all that the House of Bishops will ask, is: "Has the priest/deacon/bishop in question left the Episcopal Church?" If the answer is "Yes", then it will not matter in the slightest where the person went: he or she will be deposed. As I have written about the illogical consequences of such a stance before, there is no need to spell it all out again.
Instead, I will content myself with pointing out that by making this change, the Episcopal Church (USA) is aligning itself with one other church which also does not trouble to distinguish, for purposes of defining abandonment, between churches in the Anglican Communion and churches which are not: it will be making its abandonment canons exactly like those of the Anglican Church of Canada. As I said in this earlier post:
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 . . .".
The Episcopal Church (USA) is a train that is headed for a wreck. Its leaders in the cab are blithely certain of themselves, and laughingly ignore all the accumulating danger signals --- the red lights and bells, the signs warning that the track is out ahead. How fitting that the three engineers of this grand strategy were gathered for a single photograph yesterday at General Convention (h/t: Father George Conger):