Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Bandit Bishop: Presiding Judge, Jury and Executioner

It is bad enough that the Episcopal Church (USA) has been saddled with a Presiding Bishop who cannot, and will not, recognize the limitations on her authority imposed by the Constitution and Canons of the Church. (If you have not done so already, please read Mike Watson's outstanding paper on the PB's authority, and her abuses of it, posted at the ACI website.) Now, in the case of Bishop Keith Ackerman, we have crystal-clear proof of the fact that she has arrogated to herself all the functions of the Court for the Trial of a Bishop. (Bishop Bennison was lucky, as it turns out. He was probably the last bishop in ECUSA to receive a full-blown trial by (and appeal to) a court of his peers.)

The proof comes from the Lord High Executioner herself, in the form of a message sent to the House of Bishops by way of a response to the charges raised in this post and all over the Episcopal blogosphere -- but not, apparently, by any members of the House (at least, not openly):

There have been several questions asked regarding Keith Ackerman and acceptance of his renunciation of orders in the Episcopal Church.

Acceptance of Keith Ackerman’s renunciation of orders in The Episcopal Church was the result of consultation with my Council of Advice, and based on his written submission to me describing his intention to function as a bishop in the Diocese of Bolivia, in the Province of the Southern Cone and requesting that he be "transferred" to that church and thus out of the Episcopal Church. It is also based on his public participation in, and signature on a document affirming, the election of Robert Duncan as “archbishop” of ACNA.

Acceptance of his renunciation says nothing about the indelibility of his orders. It does clarify the reality that he is no longer permitted to function as a bishop in The Episcopal Church.

We have been and will be consistent regarding our canons, which clearly state that The Episcopal Church can accept the ministry of a bishop of The Episcopal Church functioning temporarily in another province of the Anglican Communion, when it is clear that that province does not seek to undermine or replace the ministry of this Church. Such temporary duty requires the full and informed consent of the respective ecclesiastical authorities. The ministry of Mark McDonald is an example, but as his position becomes permanent, his loyalty will have to be to the Anglican Church of Canada, rather than The Episcopal Church, and a recognition of his renunciation of orders in this Church will be necessary.

Yours in Christ,

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
First, note the affirmation (although we did not need it) of the complicity of her Council of Advice in this sorry affair. (I note in passing that the "Council of Advice" currently amounts to an Episcopal version of the Star Chamber, since its current roster is nowhere to be found on the official ECUSA website. All they have is the list of members who served from GC 2006 until GC 2009 -- and even to find that, one has to do a site search, since the usual link to the CCAB page has been replaced.)

Second, note the persistence in her misreading of what Bishop Ackerman told her. She claims that Bishop Ackerman declared in his letter to her "his intention to function as a bishop in the Diocese of Bolivia." Since she stubbornly refuses to make his letter public, we have to judge the objective circumstances in this. What Bishop Ackerman says makes complete sense, in light of the actual facts: he says he explained to her that he had been invited to attend meetings of the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone, where he would not have either voice or vote (see my previous post). In other words, while working in Bolivia he would receive respect for his title as a bishop, but he would not function as a bishop in the Diocese of Bolivia. This distinction utterly escapes our Most Reverend Judge, who simply does not know what it means to function as a bishop of the one, true, catholic and apostolic church -- and that is her first failure in this matter.

The next bit is equally telling: "based on his written submission to me . . . requesting that he be 'transferred' to that church and thus out of the Episcopal Church." The "thus" clause does not follow at all, unless you are acting as Judge and Jury together. Again, since she will not let us see the letters so that we may judge her actions for ourselves, we have to trust Bishop Ackerman here. Bishop Ackerman's diocese of canonical residence, the Diocese of Quincy, had withdrawn from ECUSA, thereby creating a chicken-and-egg problem for him. As a bishop with resigned status, he was subject to the Ecclesiastical Authority of that Diocese -- but just who would that be, canonically speaking? There had been the usual "special convention" called without proper notice or quorum, at which a "Provisional Bishop" hand-picked by Yours Truly had been "approved." Bishop Ackerman was not going to receive any warm welcome there -- they had moved to freeze the Diocese's bank accounts, and thus cut off its ability to pay his health insurance, remember? So he wrote to the Presiding Bishop, asking if he needed a transfer in order to earn some money while carrying on his mission work to the poor in Bolivia.

In retrospect, that action had all the sagacity of Little Red Riding Hood placing her trust in the creature that was dressed up as her grandmother. And note that, just like the big bad wolf, the Presiding Bishop lured him into her trap by promising him, as Bishop Ackerman informs us, that she would, after consultation with her Star Chamber Council of Advice, send him the "appropriate papers."

Now we learn from this latest message that she had no such intention of transferring him at all. Bolivia was not just another diocese in a sister province of the Anglican Communion -- it was the Camp of the Enemy, whose actual bishop, the Rt. Rev. Frank Lyons, was bent on "undermining and replacing the ministry of this Church." (It's funny -- my copy of the Canons is missing that language in the definition of what constitutes "abandonment of communion" or "renunciation of Ministry".) Thus, her verdict had to be "Guilty by association". Never mind that Bishop Ackerman was going there to carry on his work of ministering to the poverty-stricken inhabitants of that Diocese.

So instead of consulting her Star Chamber about what to do with Bishop Ackerman's request, we now know that she sent his letter to them and asked whether she could treat it as a convenient written renunciation of his ordained Ministry, pursuant to Canon III.12.7. And to sugar-coat the pill, she included this damning datum: that Bishop Ackerman had publicly participated in -- and yes, had even dared to sign -- "a document affirming the election of Robert Duncan as 'archbishop' of ACNA."

Oh, we can see the scorn literally dripping off that word "archbishop", which she includes in quotation marks and refuses even to capitalize. So that was Bishop Ackerman's real offense!

But, be careful, now -- we are getting into the realm of "abandonment of the communion of this Church", and to proceed under that Canon would require a messy vote in the House of Bishops itself. There it might prove that Bishop Ackerman's years of humble and godly service to ECUSA still earned him a fair measure of respect among his colleagues, such that they might not play along with such a move. So that maneuver is out.

Back to Square One -- treat his letter as a "renunciation" of his Ministry -- even though it specifically states it is not. But when called upon to justify your treating it as such, throw in that bit about participating in the installation of that d---d "archbishop" -- er, archrival.

So now we have gone from Judge and Jury to Executioner, in one fell swoop. No charges were made to the Title IV Review Committee, or inhibition imposed; no trial before the House of Bishops has taken place; and no resolution to depose was moved and voted on. Judgment and sentence of renunciation has been pronounced without bothering to request the "renouncer" even for a clarification of his intent, because that could muddy the waters.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, you are a disgrace to all who profess and call themselves Christian. The title of "Bandit Bishop" is what most suits. You now stand convicted, yourself, out of your own mouth, of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. If the House of Bishops is too spineless to depose you for your abuses of the Canons (how fortunate that you specialized in the study of marine invertebrates), you should accept your own renunciation of the ordained Ministry, and step down.


  1. "Bandit Bishop" is excellent.

    Interesting that the BB now has to go after every bishop, priest and deacon who has changed canonical residence from ECUSA/TEC to another Province. Poor old MacDonald, I'm sure its the last thing he was expecting.

  2. I do not see this letter helping her dig out of what most of your readers might consider to be a self created hole.

    I also don't hear any members of the HoB standing up to deliver a well deserved "Joe Wilson."

  3. Excellent article. Your "Produce the Letters" piece is being carried by many sites.

    VirtueOnLine posted an article at:

    It is fascinating to read the comments there and elsewhere.