Today Canon Harris chooses to take on the case of the Diocese of San Joaquin, which has never expressly acceded to the Canons of the Episcopal Church (USA). Back when it was a Missionary Diocese, it did so in its Constitution. For reasons which are lost in the past, the phrase "and Canons" was left out of the new Constitution's accession clause when the Diocese of San Joaquin formed and was admitted to the Church in 1961. The language was passed at a special convocation of the new Diocese, and then was reviewed by the members of the General Convention's Committees (one in each House) on the Admission of New Dioceses, who in many cases had trained in the law before joining the Church -- several even had LL.D.'s. It is difficult to think that the omission, therefore, was inadvertent -- but who now knows?
All that can be observed is that, not counting foreign dioceses or those which have withdrawn, there are some fifteen current dioceses in the Church which have Constitutions which accede to neither the national Constitution nor the Canons, and another fifteen which, like the Diocese of San Joaquin, accede only to the Constitution. The fact that diocesan accession clauses are all over the place, accordingly, makes any argument which is based on what they do not say a very weak argument, indeed.
Canon Harris presents a little syllogism which to him proves that the Diocese of San Joaquin is indeed subject to the Church's Canons. It runs like this:
A. The General Convention has the authority to enact Canons for the whole Church.
B. The Constitution of the Diocese of San Joaquin has always acknowledged the authority of General Convention.
C. Ergo, the Diocese of San Joaquin must be bound by the Canons of the Church.
Whoa! That conclusion does not in any way follow from the premises, because Premise B assumes that the "authority" which the Diocese acknowledges is the same "authority" of General Convention to enact Canons. Let's just put that assumption to the test, shall we?
Suppose General Convention enacts a Canon which allows horses to be elected bishops in the Church. (Yes, I know, it's a ridiculously extreme example, but that is just the point.) Would Canon Harris contend that the Diocese of San Joaquin was bound by that Canon to recognize a consecrated horse?
Obviously not (I hope). So what does that extreme example tell us? That there are limits on the "authority of General Convention." And that when a Diocese says it "acknowledges the authority of General Convention", it is not saying that it will be bound by whatever canons General Convention decides to enact.
Now take another example, closer to home. In 1982, General Convention amended the Canons to provide that "no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." Did it exceed its authority in doing so? Apparently some dioceses, including the Diocese of San Joaquin and its provisional bishop, are of that opinion -- because they refuse to obey it. (I also know several churches in the Diocese of Oregon which openly ignore it, and doubtless there are many, many others. To my knowledge, Canon Harris has not declared his own practice in this regard.) They invite everyone present, baptized or not, to partake of Communion.
Where are the calls for presentment of the clergy who administer Holy Communion to anyone, regardless of whether they are baptized? Do not their violations of that Canon count as violations of their ordination vows, too? And where, as in the case of a bishop with jurisdiction, like Bishop Lamb of San Joaquin, the disobedience is at a diocesan level, how can anyone argue that Dioceses are "bound" by the Canons of General Convention?
Or take another example, now hitting much closer to Canon Harris' views: can General Convention empower the Presiding Bishop by Canon to issue a Pastoral Directive to any diocesan bishop, at any time, without prior notice, and solely on her own judgment and authority? Is every Diocese "bound" by that Canon? Could, for example, Bishop Jefferts Schori issue a pastoral directive to Bishop Lamb to cease his violations of Canon I.17.7?
Don't look now, but General Convention 2009 did exactly that at Anaheim; no doubt Canon Harris even voted for the change as a clerical deputy from the Diocese of Delaware. But was that change constitutional? Article II, Section 3 of the Church's Constitution provides: "A Bishop shall confine the exercise of such office to the Diocese in which elected." Whence, then, comes the authority of General Convention to make the Presiding Bishop a metropolitan with supreme authority over every other Bishop acting in his or her own Diocese?
Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina has denied that General Convention has that authority, and his Diocesan Convention has backed him up, by refusing to accede to the new Title IV revisions adopted at Anaheim in 2009. But wait -- on Canon Harris' say-so, a Diocese cannot refuse to accede to the Canons, even if their Constitution leaves out the words that do just that. So where does that leave us? Just what "authority" does General Convention have to pass Canons, and under what circumstances are they binding on the Dioceses? And who is the judge of that?
The answers to those questions are not simple, and no doubt Canon Harris will not like them. But in a canonical nutshell, the situation is this: General Convention has no more authority over the several Dioceses than Congress did over the several States under the Articles of Confederation. If Congress in the time of the Articles passed a law which a particular State did not like, that State could simply pass its own contrary law to replace it, and there was absolutely nothing Congress could do about it.
That situation changed, of course, when the Constitutional Convention of 1789 proposed a new Constitution, which contained in Article VI a Supremacy Clause, making the Constitution and all laws of Congress enacted pursuant thereto "the supreme Law of the Land . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." From that point forward, no State could pass a law which was contrary to a law passed by Congress (provided the latter was constitutional).
But the Episcopal Church, which also organized in 1789, has never had a Supremacy Clause in its Constitution -- and so in that respect, the authority of its General Convention to pass Canons is on a par with that of Congress under the former Articles. In 1895, as I described in this post, a Standing Commission on the Constitution proposed to General Convention that a Supremacy Clause be added to the Church Constitution. It would have read (with emphasis added):
SECTION 1. For the purposes declared in this Constitution, and under the limitations therein prescribed, the General Synod is the Supreme Legislative Authority in this Church, and, in addition to such powers as are in other Articles of this Constitution expressly or by implication conferred upon it, shall have exclusive power to legislate upon the following subjects:This proposal, made in 1895, was overwhelmingly rejected in the House of Deputies, voting by orders, at the Convention in Baltimore in 1898. The Dioceses showed by their strong negative votes that they did not wish to cede "supreme authority" to General Convention. That is the way the matter was decided in 1898, and that is the way the matter has remained ever since.(a) The qualifications and conditions for making, ordaining, and consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.
(b) The conditions for the formation, division, and rearrangement of Provinces and Dioceses, and the relations of Provinces and Dioceses to each other.
(c) The foreign relations of the Church.
(d) The general missionary, educational, and charitable work of the Church.
People who are not trained in the Canons are often not aware of the significance of legislative history, or of the importance of delving into the work of prior Conventions before coming to any conclusions about what current language means. I do not hold Canon Harris to that standard, and so I do not fault him for his opinions. But his opinions in this instance have nothing to do with the actual "authority of General Convention" in the Episcopal Church (USA).
[UPDATE 11/21/2010: The Rev. Canon Harris, as I predicted above, did not like my answer to his question. What is more typical of those whose views he advocates is that in rejecting the answer I gave above, he also claims that I evaded giving him an answer.
The truth is, I did answer Canon Harris' question about whether accession to ECUSA's Constitution implies consent to be bound by whatever canons General Convention may subsequently choose to enact. He simply chose to ignore the answer -- because it was not to his liking. (I also find it most interesting that Canon Harris had nothing to say about the measures which he helped to enact at General Convention, which are blatantly unconstitutional in regard to the powers they presume to give to the Presiding Bishop. Silence, as they say, speaks volumes.)
So let me now be very direct, since Canon Harris claims not to like my "playing nice". Also, let me again be prompt in replying, even though Canon Harris regards such promptness as worthy of singling out for comment.
The answer to the question of whether a diocese which accedes to ECUSA's Constitution, but not at the same time (in so many words) to its Canons, is nevertheless bound to observe whatever Canons General Convention may decide to enact, is: No, a Diocese is not so bound by whatever General Convention may decide to enact.
The reason for that answer is, as I plainly stated in my original post above, that General Convention is not the "supreme legislative authority" in the Episcopal Church. Those who founded the Church in 1789 omitted the language of supremacy, which they included at the same time in the United States Constitution. And in 1895, General Convention proposed to adopt that same language of supremacy, but the very next Convention overwhelmingly rejected that proposal.
As a consequence, the Dennis Canon as enacted by the Church in 1979 is not the final word on the subject of parish property ownership, because whatever General Convention may choose to enact, a Diocese is free to counteract.
I do not know what makes it so hard for those on the left to grasp that fact. General Convention, I repeat, is not supreme in the Church -- the proposal to make it such was overwhelmingly defeated in 1898, by the House of Deputies, voting by orders, and hence representing the dioceses which elected them.
In the case of the Diocese of San Joaquin, it chose to enact in 2005 a counter to the Dennis Canon, which provided expressly that no parish property would be impressed with a trust in favor of the national Church (or any other entity) without the written consent of the Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese.
Because General Convention was expressly not made the supreme legislative authority in the Church, it had no power to abrogate or declare illegal the enactment by San Joaquin of its counter-Dennis Canon in 2005 -- plus, it did not even try to do so, but let the amendment pass without objection or comment, and made no attempt since 2005 to re-enact the Dennis Canon. The Dennis Canon, therefore, was a nullity in the Diocese of San Joaquin after December 2005, and cannot now be resurrected by ECUSA and the replacement diocese in their suits against the individual parishes. Even if it is I who say it, those lawsuits are doomed to fail.
Moreover, the Dennis Canon itself has no application to the property which is owned by a Diocese. (Do you get that, Lapinbizarre?) No application -- zero -- nada -- zip. (I am sorry to be so blunt, but Canon Harris and his followers demand nothing less than straight talk.) So the current lawsuit, in which I am one of the attorneys defending Bishop Schofield, will not turn on the validity of the Dennis Canon -- as upheld by the California Supreme Court, for the time being (yes -- I have to stick that dagger in, because we are not through yet opposing that decision, too). Regardless, therefore, of what Episcopalians may think about the California Supreme Court decision involving St. James, Newport Beach: get it through your heads that the San Joaquin case does not involve anything about the Dennis Canon.
Is that clear enough for you, Canon Harris, Lapinbizarre, Dah-veed, and similar drum-beaters on the left?
And as for a certain Fred Schwartz, just what is it about reversed and vacated that you do not understand? (Again, I apologize for wielding a two-by-four, but these people positively ask for it by their obtuse remarks.) The only ones who had their "back sides whooped" in the recent decision of the Court of Appeals were Fred Schwartz and all those like him who are not content with being allowed to keep their own parish properties, but want Bishop Lamb to take over the properties of the majority in San Joaquin who voted to leave the very people who think that way.
If those of you who are so committed to the program of the Episcopal Church (USA) -- which seeks to ruin and impoverish those who disagree with it -- choose at the same time to believe that a thorough defeat at the appellate level is instead some kind of victory, then I pray that you may eventually come to realize all that is wrong about your overweening claims of authority, and to regret all the resources you have devoted to such a pursuit. (You may choose to spurn these remarks, but I say them as a fellow Episcopalian, and not as an attorney opposing your attorneys. I personally believe that donating or pledging funds to such a pursuit is wrong. And, by the way -- neither I nor any of Bishop Schofield's attorneys currently receive payment for our work on behalf of Bishop Schofield. At ECUSA's request, Merrill Lynch froze the Diocese's accounts, and so it cannot pay us, even if we wished it to do so. At the same time, ECUSA has seen to it that Bishop Lamb's attorneys are being paid "handsomely" -- but then, that is a debt which you in the remnant San Joaquin are committed to repay, no matter what happens -- right?)
Again, I would personally prefer that it were unnecessary to be so blunt, but when the olive branch of reason is rejected in so uncouth a fashion, then a two-by-four is required in response. So be it. As far as this curmudgeon is concerned, this is the end of the matter. Since those who support Canon Harris will disregard anything I say, further response is superfluous.]