Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bishop Lawrence: How to Do It Right

Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina shows every other bishop in the Episcopal Church -- including especially the Presiding Bishop -- how one canonically removes clergy under one's jurisdiction who have departed ECUSA for another province of the Anglican Communion.

One does it by a simple, two-sentence declaration of removal: "Notice is hereby given that on October 21, 2010, acting with the advice and consent of the clerical members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, I removed N. N. and N. N. from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. This action was taken for causes which do not affect the moral character of the persons removed from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church."

There is no phony or illegal resort to the Abandonment Canon (IV.10); there is no phony pretense of treating some communication from the departing clergy as a "voluntary renunciation of the ordained ministry" which the bishop uses to claim that "N. N. 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."

The integrity of the Communion, and of the role which the Episcopal Church (USA) plays in it, is honored. The Recorder of Ordinations is notified, and the clergy are no longer on the rolls of ordained ministers in the Episcopal Church -- but they are still fully ordained, and qualified to be licensed as ministers in another province of the Anglican Communion.

See how simple it is to follow the canons when one is of a mind to honor the Church's membership in the Anglican Communion? Bishop Lawrence once again puts his colleagues to shame.

That does not stop the usual back-biters from sniping at him. They and their ilk believe that despite the binding precedent of South Carolina's highest court ruling that the Dennis Canon had no legal effect in the State, he should have wasted diocesan resources, and frayed tempers still more, by a vain pursuit of St. Andrew's parish property in the state courts. (You can find the link to The Lead's post to this effect in the column to the right.) It is attitudes such as theirs, which the Presiding Bishop exemplifies, which are wrecking the Church and the Communion.

Thank you for setting the proper canonical example, Bishop Lawrence!


  1. Bishop Stanton of Dallas has transferred clergy (via letters dimissory) to other provinces, thus leaving the way open for them to return the same way.

    When a priest or deacon feels the need to leave TEC for another Anglican province, I believe that letters dimissory are the better way to go.


    Phil Snyder

  2. Phil Snyder, thank you -- I meant to mention that the notice signed by Bishop Lawrence would have been preceded by letters dimissory. I am also aware that there are other bishops in ECUSA who follow proper canonical procedure, and they are deserving of our thanks and praise. Readers should use the comments to bring them to the attention of those of us who care for a Church which operates under the rule of law.

  3. Mr. Haley, What about those who will say that these priests should've been deposed? Granted, I do think this simple letter is quite effective and see no need for anything other than what is required by the canons.

    You know some have already said that this letter/notice was not according to the Canons of the Episcopal CHurch. Just building their case against him, eh?

  4. Alexi, it is the ones who resort to deposition in these cases who are violating the canons. Canon IV.10 expressly states that clergy who transfer to a church in communion with ECUSA have not abandoned the communion of this
    Church. To date, ECUSA has not broken communion with any other province in the Anglican Communion, including the Province of Uganda, with which St. Andrew's is affiliated.

  5. Bishop Lawrence has done the right thing. Mrs. Shcori never will do the right thing as her goal is to destroy all of those who do not agree with her and her disciples. She is not interested in maintaining the Anglican Communion but recreating it in the image she and her ilk want. If God, Jesus Christ, and/or the Gospel get in the way of what she wants then those entities are disposable. Therefore to repeat myself, Mrs. Schori will not do what is right because it will not move forward her, her sycophants, and their ideas into power.


  6. I'm happy to pay tribute to +Bill Love of Albany as another honorable (and orthodox) bishop who has done the right thing and gladly given Letters Dimissory to clergy who have asked to transfer to the ACNA.

    I am one of those, and +Love kindly wrote such a letter for me last year. No phony "deposition," no hassle.

  7. Mr. Haley:

    This was a comment on the Episcopal Cafe which included this statement:I find it interesting that Bishop Lawrence pronounced a "Declaration of Removal," and not a "Sentence of Deposition." There was apparently a sentence of Removal at some recent point in our history. However, that is no longer the case. According to Canons (IV.14.28),

    Sec. 28. Former Sentence of Removal. Solely for the purposes of the application of these Canons to persons who have received the pronouncement of the former Sentence of removal, the former Sentence of removal shall be deemed to have been a Sentence of Deposition.

    Thus, these priests are, regarding authority within the Episcopal Church, deposed.

    Please comment on this for us. We greatly appreciate your work and your edification.

  8. Galletta, I am traveling just now and do not have White & Dykman handy, but I am fairly confident that the former "Sentence of Removal" was a remedy following a presentment and ecclesiastical trial. When someone simply transfers to another province with the blessings of his bishop, and with letters dimissory, there are no such proceedings involved. So the comment at the Cafe, as you describe it, would appear to be ill-informed.

    When I return home tomorrow, I will check my White & Dykman, and post a change to this answer if I am the one in error. Meantime, please note this was not a "sentence" of removal, but a notice of removal. I think Bishop Lawrence was being canonically careful (and correct) in using the latter word.

  9. Am I to take it that this was confusion introduced into the Episcopal Church by +Bennison, at the urging of the Pennsylvania Standing Committee, in the dispute they conjured up with Father Moyer (later Bishop Moyer) at Good Shepherd, Rosemont?

    You posted, here, , that

    At the time Bishop Bennison inhibited Father Moyer, it is believed that this is the first time that Canon IV.10 had been used against a priest who disagreed with his bishop's beliefs but who wanted to remain within the Anglican Communion. The current status of Forward in Faith is unclear: it wishes to become part of a new orthodox province of the Anglican Communion in America, but the recognition of a new province is solely within the competence of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates. Nevertheless, it clearly sees itself as in continuity with the orthodox traditions of the Anglican Communion.

    What continues to amaze me about this one is that Father Moyer never received a presentment and trial. The canons clearly lay out a procedure. I would go so far as to say that Pennsylvania law (15 Pa.C.S. section 5107), required the Diocese of Pennsylvania to follow its internal procedure, as a "neutral principle of law". Your state, California, in fact, has referred to church canons as "bylaws" (New v. Kroeger), which the civil court will recognize and honor under neutral principles. This was California Corporations Code section 9150, cited in that case and which I discuss more about here:

    It has always seemed to me that Father Moyer's "job", in a manner of speaking, was sought to be taken away from him in a manner that is akin to company trying to break a union contract, or trying to fire a director under who served under some, similar style, contract. These clearly are matters for the civil court, where a contract can be shown. It just is surprising that the Moyer matter was not. In effect, Pennsylvania courts once again re-wrote Episcopal Church practices. (The first time was with Gundlach v. Laister, 625 A.2d 706 (Pa. Commw. 1993), as you know. Of course, there is the whole Pittsburgh Diocese set of cases ongoing.)

    Where you say that the Bishop of South Carolina acted in the "right" way, I would also add that he acted in the ONLY way that a Bishop should be permitted to de-license an Episcopal priest within a diocese. It's "di-missory" after all, not "dismiss-ory".

    This new-fangled way, circa 2002-- with no support in canons--is an invention of the Pennsylvania court system, as much as Bennison and the Standing Committee. And again, ironically, it's how a Roman Catholic bishop would govern under that denomination's governance.

  10. Galletta -- I'm back home now, and have looked up "sentence of removal" in the treatise by White & Dykman. Such a sentence used to be pronounced by a bishop to remove from the ordained ministry of the Church, for reasons not pertaining to morals or character, any priest or deacon who sent the bishop a voluntary renunciation of his orders, and asked to be so removed. They changed the terminology to just "sentence of deposition" in Canon IV.12.8 in 1969, but the two sentences have exactly the same effect: the priest in question may no longer function as such in the Church. However, the wording required by that Canon adds a phrase that the priest is also "deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God's word and sacraments conferred at ordination."

    Bishop Lawrence's Notice is not a "Sentence", but just a notice -- that the priests have been removed not from their ordained ministry, but from the bishop's own jurisdiction. (Observe that it lacks the operative phrase declaring them "deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God's word and sacraments".) It constitutes authority for the Recorder to take their names off the official register of the Church.

    In this case, the priests in question are going to continue to exercise their ministry under the authority of a different province of the Anglican Communion. In giving his notice, Bishop Lawrence is fulfilling the duties under Canon I.1.6(b), pursuant to which he must report to the Church Recorder the names of all clergy who have been removed or transferred from his jurisdiction.

  11. Hi Mr. Haley, Thanks for the clarification. Galletta and I thank you. We can count on you for a clear interpretation of the canons. Many thanks.

  12. Bishop Iker used similarly gracious language in releasing the TEC-loyal clergy in Fort Worth. No suggestion that they weren't priests or deacons anymore. They just weren't under his jurisdiction anymore.