Monday, February 22, 2010

Calvary Syndrome Infects South Carolina

In a previous post I posed the question: What in the world is happening in the Diocese of South Carolina? Now, after a press conference today with the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, following the conclusion of the meeting of the Executive Council in Omaha, and as reported by Cherie Wetzel of Anglicans United, I think am starting to see the outline of an answer: what is going on is that we see history about to repeat itself. [UPDATE 02/24/2010: I have received a more accurate transcript of what was said during the press conference, and I have updated the quotes below to reflect that transcript. I am keeping the link to Anglicans United above, so that anyone who wishes may compare the two versions.]

Not only that, but it will apparently repeat itself with no lessons having been learned. This is all so unnecessary -- and the facts demonstrate, more than anything I could say or write, how severe is the crisis that engulfs the leadership of the Episcopal Church.

Let me first stick to just the facts, since as you will see, the essence of 815's rationale for taking the actions they have taken -- and apparently are further planning to take -- is that "facts are being distorted, and Episcopalians in South Carolina are not getting the truth." Here is a verbatim quote from the press conference:
Doug LeBlanc, The Living Church: The Episcopal News Service reported on Friday that the Presiding bishop spoke about tensions in the Diocese of South Carolina. She asked members of Executive Council to pray for the people of the Diocese. I would like to ask both presiding officers what sort of breakthroughs do you hope for as people pray about the conflict.

PB [the Presiding Bishop]: I would certainly hope that Episcopalians in South Carolina have a clear understanding of the realities of the Episcopal Church and they don't depend on erroneous information.

ANDERSON [President, House of Deputies]: I would agree with that. I am also in contact with some of the deputies from the Diocese of South Carolina, and the continued struggle for clear and accurate information for prayerful decision making for support all across the church is needed and asked for on a continuing basis.
And just in case you did not receive the message loud and clear, here is another exchange:
George Conger, reporter at large [and Church of England Newspaper] to the PB and President: Both of you spoke about erroneous information at work in South Carolina. Could you speak to what exactly this erroneous information is? Are you speaking of the work of the Anglican Communion Institute or of other parties? What is this erroneous information?

PB: Episcopalians, like many others who use the Internet, often seek information in places where information is not peer reviewed. They rely on opinions rather than factual information. I think there is a lot of fear and anxiety at work within the Diocese of South Carolina. There are representations of the theology of the Church was a whole that I think are inaccurate. There are representations of processes within the Church that are often inaccurate. And I would simply encourage people who have questions to look more broadly, to ask the bodies of the Episcopal Church for more information if they are uncertain.

ANDERSON: Yes, I would agree with that. As you know there have been situations in which information across dioceses where there are been disagreement there have been an influx of information coming from sources one way or the other and I think it is really important, as Bishop Katharine has stated, for people who are going to be voting on something make sure they have accurate information on anything that is before them. Anything as simple as -- and this is just an example and I am not saying this will come up in particular instance -- can a diocese leave The Episcopal Church? What is the process for those kinds of concerns and making sure that we know and everyone knows what we have agreed to in terms of General Convention over the years when we were all carefully walking this path together. And I hopefully we can continue to do that.
Now, just what is this misinformation and ill-informed opinion that is being broadcast to Episcopalians in South Carolina? Here is a third exchange from the conference, which provides a clue:
Mary Ann Mueller for VirtueOnline: The Episcopal Church has gone after traditionalists with a vengeance and now you are zeroing in on South Carolina, the same God-fearing Episcopalians who have been the backbone of the Church since the its colonial foundation in 1706, more than 300 years ago. Apparently, Presiding Bishop, you have retained an attorney to deal with local matters. What are those local matters and how are you going to deal with them?

PB: My understanding is that Episcopalians in South Carolina have expressed concern about some who have departed The Episcopal Church and attempted to maintain control of Episcopal Church assets. They have asked for some assistance because the Church as whole has some responsibility.
"Those who have departed"?? The fact is that the only parish to have left the Diocese of South Carolina to date is All Saints Waccamaw, on Pawley's Island -- and it did so in 2003 -- some seven years ago. Its right to do so was recently affirmed by South Carolina's highest court (although certain vestry and parish members who disagree with that decision have asked the United States Supreme Court to review it). This is hardly -- how shall this Westerner put it? -- a stampede.

And how can the Presiding Bishop describe Waccamaw's victory in the South Carolina Supreme Court as an attempt to maintain "control over Episcopal assets"? My goodness and sakes alive, as my sainted grandmother was fond of saying. To think that there would be current Episcopalians in South Carolina who might actually choose to accept and follow the ruling by the highest Court of that State -- which held, just so that we stick to the facts, now -- that the Dennis Canon was legally insufficient to create on its own any beneficial interest in a parish's property and in favor of the Diocese or the national Church.

Do I have this right?? The Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops and the President of the House of Deputies are concerned that Episcopalians in South Carolina are not being told "the truth" about the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision? That despite what the Supreme Court ruled, Episcopalians in South Carolina are entitled to retain control over the assets of those who elect to leave the Diocese? And that the President of the House of Deputies believes "that is [w]hat we have agreed to in the General Convention over the years"??

Were I not absolutely convinced of the faithfulness with which Cherie Wetzel transcribed these words, I would find myself doubting my own sanity. For -- let it now be said -- this is unsound; this makes no sense whatsoever. If the current leadership of the Episcopal Church believes so strongly that they are right and the Supreme Court of South Carolina is wrong, then why did not ECUSA itself ask the Supreme Court to review the case? Why did it expect a few dissident Waccamaw parishioners to carry that burden?

What we see happening right now in South Carolina is the kind of craziness that began in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2003 -- long before the terms of either of the current presiding officers of the Church began. As I have recounted in a series of posts dealing with the litigation in that Diocese, everything began with a suspicion on the part of certain clergy and parishioners associated with Calvary Church that Bishop Duncan was preparing to allow other parishes who disagreed with the impending consecration of V. Gene Robinson to leave the Diocese and to keep their parish property. So they filed suit against Bishop Duncan to prevent him from doing just that.

And the result, five years later, was not that any individual parishes left the Church, but that the entire Diocese voted to leave the Church -- after the (current) leadership at 815 had broken the canons multiple times to "depose" the Right Rev. Robert Duncan, its bishop.

But Bishop Duncan did not have any binding precedent of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on his side -- in fact, what precedent there was had held in favor of the Dennis Canon. Here we have the exact opposite.

"[Mis]information", my eye. This is not about misinformation at all, but about power -- absolute and unchecked power (because the House of Bishops is too cowardly to insist as a group that the canons of the Church be strictly followed when it comes to deposition of their colleagues), which corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton famously reminded us.

If the leadership at 815 embarks on a Calvary-inspired harassment of the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence and the Standing Committee, then I repeat what I said in my earlier post:
This is a watershed moment for both those at 815 Second Avenue and their supporters, as well as for all those who are trying to hold on to a presence in the Episcopal Church despite its current tyrannical ways. Fortunately, their very arguments based on a "trust" in favor of the national Church may be turned against them -- if each parish owes perpetual allegiance to the national Church, then the leadership of that Church owes fiduciary duties to each and every diocese and parish. Those fiduciary duties are very clear, and do not admit of any waffling or tergiversation. Depending on how this all plays out, there will either be a very clear case for breach of fiduciary duties, or not.
If ECUSA did not learn from the current debacle in Pittsburgh -- where the law ostensibly was in its favor -- then it is doomed to repeat in South Carolina the mistakes it made there. And if no other dioceses will stand behind South Carolina in its travails, then I miss my guess, and the Episcopal Church is truly not worth the paper its constitution was written on. All that will then remain will be a metropolitical Church under an arbitrary figurehead. After some 220 years, judgment will then fall on the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

Ah, well -- someday, it will all make a great book. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.


  1. Since the law of the land does not allow a church to forcibly retain members, you have to wonder what they hope to gain by all this. South Carolina has a plethora of historic churches, very few of whom have any endowments worth speaking of.

    Assuming that Tommy Tisdale pulls out all the stops and triumphs where others have failed, 815 triumphs gloriously over the diocese and any dissident parishes, what then? St Andrews Mt. Pleasant is a relatively new church. They can and probably would walk away from the facilities. The Charleston churches would mostly wither on the vine, following the pattern seen in New England.

    They can keep the properties, but they can not force people to support them. And those historic churches are old. They are very expensive to maintain. And they rely on income (gifts) to survive. And finally, many of them are on the National Historic Register. The exteriors can not be altered, even if the interiors are un-altared.

    And that's assuming a swift and complete legal victory when they do not have the law of the state on their side.

    All of which is a long and rambling way of asking "why?"

  2. Matthew, I am just as puzzled as you are in trying to figure out the rational calculus of 815 in this maneuvering. I have concluded that it is not rational, because the surest way to make you think yourself crazy is to try to make sense of something which at heart is irrational.

    What I see is that delusions of power prevail over all pretenses to being rational -- especially when such delusions are being supported by a chancellor whose law firm stands to benefit the most from the advice being given. In other words, 815 does not only avoid the truth, but it ensures (through the attorneys it pays) that it will never hear the truth. And yet it deludes itself into thinking it can accuse Bishop Lawrence of hiding the truth from his parishioners!

    This is a donnybrook unfolding as we watch. Each step seems carefully choreographed to produce the maximum tension, as one watches the forces align against one another. Time, with its inevitable march forward, is relentless and pitiless in forcing a choice on us all. The only sure guide in making the choice that will be required of us is a steadfast insistence on remaining true to the faith once delivered.

    Let us now pray: God save this Church, and God save together with it the Diocese of South Carolina, its Bishop, its Standing Committee, and all of its faithful clergy and parishioners!

  3. Thank you, Mr.Haley. This press conference is odd indeed. In fact as you say this does make one crazy when you try to think about this rationally. Sigh.

    Hmm, Matthew, I would not think that the old historic parishes would wither on the vine simply because the property is no longer theirs (if this happens). Some of those parishes are not small and quite active. St. Phillips is over 300 years old yet active.

    This clarifies the reason behind those odd letters in January. Preserve the property at all cost for "the church". Hmm, IF 815 is correct (and that is an assumption that I don't believe) all that lovely property and who will worship there? That should be a sight. THis is going to be a tough one for TECUSA to force in this state. Tisdale is not the only attorney in this state.

    I guess 815 is hoping that all these various judgments will peak the attention of the Justices of the Supreme Courts and they will merely look at rulings and decide so many in favor of TC and these against. OK whomever has the bigger number wins! Hmm, do you think the Supreme Court is really capable of such dawdle and childish doings?

    Again Thanks for the prayers. We will need them.

  4. Alexi, I was perhaps less than clear. I think St. Phillips and many others would do just fine. If 815 sues and wins, which is a long shot, I think they would do just fine outside of the Episcopal Church. Whatever shadow parish that retained the property and Remained Episcopal would not flourish. That's what I meant by 'wither on the vine'.

    Such a result would be quite distressing. I don't think it likely as I really can't imagine why the US Supreme Court would ever hear the case, much less overturn the SC Supreme Court's decision. The only other possibilities for 815 to prevail involve either getting the SC Supreme Court to reverse itself or getting the SC State Legislature to pass some sort of law. Both of those possibilities seem rather remote.

  5. "if each parish owes perpetual allegiance to the national Church, then the leadership of that Church owes fiduciary duties to each and every diocese and parish. Those fiduciary duties are very clear, and do not admit of any waffling or tergiversation. Depending on how this all plays out, there will either be a very clear case for breach of fiduciary duties, or not."

    Would you please elaborate a little on this? I am not an attorney and I am not sure what it means. Under this scenario, what breach of fiduciary duty to the diocese and parish do you think may have been committed by the national church?

  6. Hi, Perpetua -- I am planning some more posts on the topic of fiduciary duties as the massive failings which we are beginning to see in respect to South Carolina unfold at the national level. For now, let me refer you to this earlier post.

  7. This is the quote that gave me pause..
    "The South Carolina representation of our theology and polity as a whole is not accurate. There are stated processes of this Church that are not accurate. I would encourage South Carolinians to ask bodies of TEC that are responsible for these decisions and get their facts straight."

    Since when is it the "polity" of this church that folks who are "concerned" go running to the PB and the president of the HoD? I know that these ladies fling polity around like they invented the word, but to make a sideways accusation of misrepresentation of the facts is, well, a bit of pot-and-ketteling at best.

    I'm told that unfaithful spouses often try to throw up a smoke screen by accusing the other spouse of infidelity. Seems that these unfaithful leaders are pulling the same stunt.

  8. The Presiding Bishop's and HOD President's latest threats are happening because TEC lost the litigation. I would not be surprised if their logic train went like this:

    1. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against us regarding the Dennis Canon. Quite unfortunate, but we (TEC) can limit the damage. First, although the Federal Supreme Court is unlikely to overrule the South Carolina Supremes (State law question, after all), we'll let our local TEC loyalists file their petition for certiorari. Who knows, if the U.S. Supremes grant cert, we (TEC) can always file our brief as an amicus rather than as a party.

    2. The South Carolina Supreme Court's ruling is, of course, limited to property in South Carolina. Our (TEC's) position in South Carolina may be lost, but at least it is quarantined to that State. Although the courts of another State might adopt South Carolina's holding and reasoning, there is not much we (TEC) can do to prevent that. We can't depose the civil judges.

    3. Therefore, the real danger of the South Carolina ruling is that it might give restive vestries, clergy, and Bishops in other states a ready made legal argument to challenge the Dennis Canon in their respective States. This would be disastrous because the South Carolina ruling could go viral.

    4. We (TEC) need to prove to restive vestries, clergy, and Bishops that we can punish them regardless of how the civil courts rule. In other words, we (TEC) need to show our brethren that the civil courts cannot protect them.

    5. We (the Presiding Bishop, her chancellor, the HOD President, et. al.) control the machinery of deposition. We can depose anyone, including the Bishops or any Standing Committee of any Diocese we like, for any reason, or for no reason, and the deposed party has no remedy. The only remedy is for the House of Bishops to clip our wings, and we have already cowed them.

    6. Who should we attack first? Let's go after Bishop Lawrence and the South Carolina Standing Committee. As benighted reactionaries, they deserve it on the merits, and going after them will demonstrate that the South Carolina ruling does not protect them, or anyone else, from us.

    Mr. Haley, I realize that the foregoing is both speculative and pretty cynical. Unfortunately, I think that in these times such cynicism about TEC's leaders explains a lot.

  9. Matthew,I think we are in agreement on a couple of things at least. One, I don't think TEC has the nerve to try an overrule the SC Supreme COurt decision. I don't think the SCUS wlll hear the case either for the very reason you said, property cases can not be heard before the SCUS. I agree that the last two possibilities of getting the legislature to enact some sort of law or getting the Supreme Court to overturn its own decision are pretty remote. However never say never and these ladies seem to think steam roll ahead and never look back. We have done it before and we plan on doing it again.

    The remainder of the parish may very well wither on the vine but that is always a possibility when a parish whatever the reason. However, I don't think the Anglican witness in this state will diminish- it just may not have the TEC label!

    Again, we are agreed why????Well i guess because it can be done. Think of all he accomplishments since this litigation mess started with All Saints back in 2000.

    Pretty pitiful is it not/ Amazingly I know someone who is a staunch PB supporter- nee understood that!

  10. Dear Mr. Haley,

    Contra your assertion that this press conference is not about misinformation, I must demur that the assertion is, however slightly, in error. If it is not about misinformation, it is at the least about disinformation—on the part of the PB (which acronym I will use henceforward as shorthand for the Prevaricating Bishop of TEC).

    I do so because of her demonstrated tendency to tell bald-faced untruths. As stated in my letter to the Rector and vestry of my last Episcopal parish, renouncing my membership in TEC at the end of September 2008 and subsequently published on another Episcopal blog, I caught the PB in a blatant lie. That lie was reported in a brief interview of the PB by a reporter who published the article on Forbes online. The details are as follows.

    Prior to Lambeth 2008, the PB and others were deposed in Virginia as part of the lawsuits brought by the Diocese of Virginia against a number of parishes who were in the process of leaving TEC, including The Falls Church and Truro Parish. The testimony unquestionably establised that, at that time, the parishes had each gone through a period of discernment as specified by the Rt. Rev. Peter J. Lee, their diocesan. They had voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from TEC, and they had negotiated with Bp. Lee the terms of agreements necessary for the transfer of their parish properties from the diocese. It was also established that Bp. Lee was fully prepared to accept the agreed terms.

    Nevertheless, when asked by the Forbes reporter shortly before Lambeth why she had found it necessary to institute litigation, the PB stated that her only choices were to "give" the departing parishes the property or to sue, completely ignoring the established facts that their was a negotiated settlement the terms of which were already agreed.

    In all honesty, I see no fully honest alternative description of her falsely dichotomous answer to the reporter other than to call it what it was, i.e., a lie. So, everything the woman says with respect to the litigations is rife with falsehood, and I suspect this is the case because that appears to be the only way in which she is able to justify her actions to others, and possibly to herself. The truth is not in her.

    If you have some alternate explanation as to why she lies, I would entertain changing my opinion about her motivation. But the fact that she routinely lies I believe to be a settled matter.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  11. This misinformed South Carolinian is ROTFLOL.

    While I would rather not delve into a psychoanalysis of the "leadership" at TEC, remember that to the deluded, anything that can get processed by and incorporated into the delusion makes sense to them, and to them the irrational appears rational.

    Bishop Lawrence in his actions and writings appears to have seen through the delusions of the PB and B.A. This makes him an enemy to the integrity of their delusion. How they choose to treat their enemies will be a testimony to their faith.

  12. Keith, Interesting story. I agree that this PB lies whenever it suits her purpose.

    That is why Mark Lawrence+ is thinking ahead to what respone he might give. Now the ball is in the PB's court as Bishop Lawrence and Diocesean Chamcellor have made it clear NO response from this diocese (SC) UNTIL the proper procedure is followed and Bishop Lawrence gets a request from the PB. Even then, I can't imagine what need the PB has of the info she has asked of the Diocese of SC.

    However, ratinal thought does not seem to be a strength of this PB.