Saturday, October 15, 2011

Absurdities in the Midst of a Crisis

Now that ECUSA's Constitutional Crisis is out in the open for all to see, the left is piling absurdity upon absurdity in an attempt to assure everyone that things are normal: "Nothing to see here," they say, " -- move along, move along." They see themselves as the calm and clear ones, while those who defend South Carolina and its bishop are being melodramatic and overwrought. In doing so, they delude themselves and their readers with multiple misreadings of ECUSA's Constitution and Canons.

Let's capture and stuff a few more specimens for our collection of Canonical Absurdities, shall we? Here's the first, from Mr. Andrew Gerns, writing for "The Lead" at Episcopal Café:
As we noted last week, here and here, a complaint has been made that Bishop Lawrence by both direct action and inaction, has abandoned the "doctrine, discipline and worship" of the Episcopal Church. These were described as "charges" (including by us, at first) and much has been written describing the persecution of the Diocese of South Carolina by the Episcopal Church.

But, as Bishop Henderson has noted, there are no charges. There is only a complaint.

We say it again: there are no charges. Only a complaint. The complaint is begin [sic] investigated.
Stuff and nonsense, Mr. Gerns. A complaint is made up of allegations. Allegations are charges -- claims that what is stated is true. Bishop Lawrence has been charged by persons undisclosed with "abandonment of communion" under Canon IV.16. Had he not been so charged, the Disciplinary Board for Bishops would never have gotten involved. (And by the way, Mr. Gerns: just how does a Bishop go about abandoning his Church by "inaction"? Wouldn't that happen only if the Church in question first abandoned that particular Bishop, and he did "not act" so as to follow them?)

Here's the next one -- another beauty from Mr. Gerns:
1. Someone made a complaint from within the Diocese.
2. The committee is investigating. (This is where the process is right now.)
3. If the investigation warrants, charges will be filed. If the investigation does not find anything actionable, the process stops.
4. If charges are made, then probably another investigation will follow. Advocates for the various parties will be selected. Attempts will be made to reconcile the aggrieved parties. If resolution is found, the process ends.
5. If no resolution is found, and if there are actionable charges, there will be a hearing where both sides will be heard. If the panel finds that no canons were broken, then the process stops. If the panel finds that canons were broken then a pastoral directive is issued. An appeal may be made.
6. Rinse. Repeat.
More stuff and nonsense. The charges have already been filed -- that is how the Board gets to investigate them. (What? -- you thought they acted only on rumors, and not charges? Well, actually, the Canon lets them act on anything that comes to their attention. But in this instance, as Bishop Henderson stated, they are acting on complaints brought by persons unknown -- to us, but not to the Disciplinary Board -- within Bishop Lawrence's Diocese.)

And the charges will not get "filed" again. Instead, by a simple majority vote of its members, the Board will either certify that "abandonment" has occurred, or it will not. There will be no further investigation. There will be no "attempts at reconciliation." And there will certainly be no hearing, because the Canon (IV.16) does not provide for one.

Instead, what the Canon says is this, Mr. Gerns:
[Upon finding that a Bishop has "abandoned the communion of this 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. . . .
And as we saw in the case of Bishop Duncan, the House of Bishops does not investigate the matter any further, because its Presiding Bishop does not give them any opportunity to do that. She simply presents them with a resolution of deposition, and they vote as she wishes. Even though they are a minority of all the bishops entitled to vote, she declares that the ones who voted her way prevail, and then signs a certificate that the Bishop has been deposed by the House of Bishops. That's the way it happens, Mr. Gerns. Were you not paying attention when Bishop Duncan got that treatment?

Since Mr. Gerns is batting so strongly for the left, let's capture another of his absurdities for stuffing and mounting:
Of course, the Disciplinary Board operates under the terms of the current Title IV. How can they do otherwise? The whole Episcopal Church--that's all the dioceses--operate under the same rules. Except in South least in the minds of their leaders...where the convention voted to only abide by Episcopal Church canon through 2006.

If this were 19th century baseball, one could argue whether Knickerbocker or Massachusetts Rules might apply on this field for this game, but not in this case. The question reveals both the direction of the upcoming dispute and how it will play out: Can the Diocese of South Carolina pick and choose which elements of the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church it will adhere to? Can they selectively opt out of what everyone else in Episcopal Church adheres to and still claim that they are upholding the "discipline" of the Church?
Welcome to the Constitutional Crisis within the Episcopal Church (USA), Mr. Gerns. If General Convention chooses to act unconstitutionally, what is a Diocese supposed to do? If it says "No, we refuse to adopt your unconstitutional new canons -- we will continue to follow the old ones," do you then depose its Bishop for that act by his Diocese? Those may be the rules in your book, but then -- that is just the problem, isn't it?

And is it really true, Mr. Gerns, that all of the dioceses "operate under the same rules"? How many Dioceses strictly adhere to the Canon that prohibits offering holy communion to the unbaptized? How many Dioceses are adhering even to the current Book of Common Prayer, which defines marriage as "between a man and a woman"? Face it, Mr. Gerns -- each Diocese picks and chooses what canons or rules it will follow, and they have been doing so since the very beginning of the Church. But only the unlucky ones are charged with "abandonment" for doing so.

Mr. Gerns's parting shot is another doozy (bold emphasis added):
Ironically, they [South Carolina] have the space to do this because they are playing an adversarial game in a process designed to be restorative.
You might want to take that up with Bishop Henderson and his Board, Mr. Gerns. Initially many of us (including some eminent canon lawyers) thought that was the case. But then Bishop Henderson published a statement which made it clear that the Board was not following the new procedures prescribed in the new Title IV (the ones you call "restorative", with possibilities for pastoral counseling, conciliation, and compromise).

No, they have decided (contrary to what Canon IV.17 says) to use the specially expedited procedure in Canon IV.16, which provides for no hearing, no conciliation or mediation, and no pastoral response. The Board takes up the charges, and if they find them to constitute "abandonment", they certify the fact, and that's it. Bishop Lawrence will have sixty days to deny the charges, but even if he does, the Presiding Bishop can (and will) bring a resolution to depose him to the House of Bishops. (Remember how it went in Bishop Duncan's case?)

You delude yourself (and your readers) when you refer to such a process as "restorative", and charge that it is Bishop Lawrence who is making this process "adversarial." It has been adversarial (designed to get rid of Bishop Lawrence) ever since the charges were first sent to the Executive Council a year ago, and it moved into high gear when Bishop Henderson pronounced them "serious" -- instead of dismissing them out of hand.

You may want to feed reassurances to your readers, Mr. Gerns, that "all is well within ECUSA" -- even if your reassurances proceed from ignorance of the canon law that is being claimed as operative by your own Church. For those in South Carolina, however, this is not a trivial matter. The Episcopal Church (USA) is threatening the very heart and lifeblood of the Diocese, and will leave it with no alternative but costly and prolonged litigation -- to prove what point? That a bishop who referred to Church heterodoxy as "kudzu" has abandoned communion with it? Really, Mr. Gerns?

Let's move on to some other people's specimens. How about one from a real live Bishop? That ought to do the trick (for some reason, Episcopal Café manages to publish most of these absurdities):
To fully understand this situation, it is important to grasp the canonical (i.e. legal) structure of The Episcopal Church. Parishes are creations of the diocese in which they are situated, in some cases deriving their tax exempt status because they are an irrevocable part of the diocese. As a condition of ordination, clergy vow obedience to their bishop. Congregations begin as mission churches under the direct supervision and financial support of the bishop with property held by the diocese. When such a church becomes a parish, by vote of diocesan legislature, the congregation pledges to be subordinate to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church as well as the constitution and canons of the diocese. After becoming a parish, they may incorporate under the religious incorporation statutes of the state in which the congregation is situated. The diocese will usually transfer title to real property to the parish at that time to be held in trust for The Episcopal Church.
Let's break these outlandish claims down, and look at them individually to understand just how absurd they are.

"Parishes are creations of the diocese in which they are situated." No, they are emphatically not. This is a common canonical mistake committed by those on the left, because of their warped views of the Church's polity. An incorporated parish may have begun as a "plant" from another organized parish, and may have started with resources from the Diocese, but only that much is true of Bishop Mathes' statement. The parish corporation is a creation of the State which accepts its articles for filing, and not of the Diocese. (Bishop Mathes shows an uncomprehending awareness of this fact when he later writes: "After becoming a parish, they may incorporate under the religious incorporation statutes of the state in which the congregation is situated.") After it has become a legitimate corporation -- i.e., a legal entity all on its own under its State's laws -- the Diocese then receives it into ecclesiastical union with itself and the other member parishes. Because the Diocese is nothing more than a collection of individual parishes and their clergy, it is the parishes that create the Diocese, and not the other way around.

But what does Bishop Mathes know of such things? After all, he is only a bishop. Let's take his next outlandish claim: "As a condition of ordination, clergy vow obedience to their bishop." What they pledge, Bishop Mathes, is to "respect and be guided by the pastoral direction and leadership of [their] bishop." And implied in that pledge is a restriction that any such "pastoral direction and leadership" be canonical, that is, lawful under the Constitution and Canons of both the Diocese and of ECUSA. Only an autocrat such as Bishop Mathes would describe this as a "vow of obedience."

The rest of his paragraph simply repeats his earlier absurdities. Let's move on to another one of his howlers:
When individuals purported to alienate property which had be given to The Episcopal Church, I was bound by my fiduciary role as a bishop to prevent that from happening. Because The Episcopal Church, like so many others, follows state laws of incorporation [sic -- I agree, it makes no sense whatsoever], I had no alternative but to file suit in civil court to remedy the matter. This is analogous to a landlord finally going to civil court to gain relief from a non-paying renter or an owner using legal means to deal with a squatter. Thus, those leaving The Episcopal Church were catalysts of these law suits by breaking their solemn vows and by attempting to seize property they had no right to possess.
In this bishop's view, the Diocese "owned" the parishes' property all along, and simply rented it out to them. I am certain this came as news to the parishes that paid for their own land and buildings. And what a success you made of matters, Bishop Mathes, by following your quaint notions of "fiduciary duty"! Those minorities for whose sake you "rescued" their properties in court are now mostly too small to maintain them -- so they will once again be dependent on the Diocese for financial support. Brilliant, Bishop Mathes -- simply brilliant. With acumen such as that, they should elect you as the next Presiding Bishop.

And -- "breaking their solemn vows", Bishop Mathes? So now you have entire congregations vowing obedience to you, as well? (The priests subject to your direction do not own the real property of the parish, Bishop.)

With his next assertion, Bishop Mathes really jumps the shark:
Ms. Hemingway [the author of the WSJ article which Mathes is excoriating] suggests that The Episcopal Church is depriving these departing Episcopalians of a relationship to Anglican bishops and foreign dioceses. Oddly, these individuals claim to desire a relationship with a bishop of their own choosing.
Oh, please, Bishop. The subject of Ms. Hemingway's article was the requirement by the so-called Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (not a real diocese) that two settling parishes -- which had withdrawn from the Episcopal Church (USA) when their Diocese withdrew, with its Bishop -- not associate further with that Diocese and its Bishop (Duncan). In other words, they already had a Bishop, but the Episcopalians in Pittsburgh would not let them stay with him. Only an egotistical autocrat like yourself, Bishop Mathes, could go on to write such drivel as this:
But bishops are those who by definition maintain order and oversight over the church. To put it in historical terms, this is rather like choosing to secede from the nation when the current leadership is not to your liking. Thus, when the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church urges her colleagues not to provide aid and comfort to those who would undermine our church, she has history on her side.
Bishop Mathes? Are you even aware of the nine dioceses that withdrew from the Church -- with their bishops -- during the Civil War? Is your reference to "secession" so ignorant that you do not see how you are contradicting yourself? And since when does allowing a congregation the right to associate with its own Bishop constitute "provid[ing] aid and comfort to those who would undermine our church"? When you illegally deprive them of that right, Bishop Mathes, you are not withholding "aid and comfort" which would otherwise be within your competence to give; you are taking away from them that which is not yours to take.

The good Bishop suffers from a delusion of what is his, and also of just who is under his thumb. This is a common delusion that eventually overtakes all petty tyrants and dictators. Enough of absurd specimens, and enough of absurd bishops. The Episcopal Church (USA) is welcome to them, since it seems bent on gratefully applauding the very people who are misleading it.


  1. "The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny." -Aesop (The wolf and the lamb)

  2. It sounds to me that a hunt for a witch is being conducted. Would that be fair?

  3. The Living Church says that Burch is the new attorney.

  4. I have no special interest in defending Bishop Mathes -- today is one of those days I'm particularly happy to be in the ACNA -- but I have to take issue with one remark: "it is the parishes that create the Diocese."

    This may be true for (secular) legal purposes; it may even reflect certain canonical realities. But theologically it seems rather problematic.... The Church, the Body of Christ, grows, and draws new members into its life. As diverse voices such as Bishop Salmon (speaking to the Diocese of San Joaquin before it left TEC), Abp. Rowan Williams, and Ignatius of Antioch would remind us: the diocese, the gathering of believers around their bishop, is the basic unit of the Church. Of course congregations may come together under a bishop in the formation of a new diocese (we're seeing that happening in the ACNA right now)... but theologically, Anglicans are not congregationalists. At least that's what I keep telling myself, perhaps holding out an implausible hope....

    Curiously, the ACNA draft-ordinal does include a vow of obedience by clergy to the bishop. This isn't necessarily a problem, although I confess I'm troubled by the phrasing used in the draft. However, the canons of both the ACNA and my own diocese still require something much like what the Episcopal Church includes in its ordination service -- though arguably with pretty different intended content, unless you're lucky enough to be ordained in South Carolina.

  5. Jonathan, I gratefully accept the fact that you are no longer under the tyranny of Bishop Mathes. But in sympathizing with his view that "parishes are the creation of the Diocese", and not vice versa, can you be sure that he has not staked out a position which will cost him dearly if he proceeds to function as a bishop on that assumption?

    Of course, the Diocese is "the basic unit" of the Church -- you will get no quarrel about that conclusion here. The truth of that conclusion, however, in no way contradicts the essential fact that Dioceses are made up of their parishes -- in both a legal (canonical) and a practical sense.

    If you could conceive (and I don't think you could) of a Diocese without parishes, then I would agree that you could also think of a body without arms, legs, head, or stomach -- but what kind of "body" would that be? Bishops know all too well that their ability to enjoy the perquisites of their office depends on the number of contributing parishes in their Diocese -- hence they are usually more circumspect than Bishop Mathes is in going about and alienating those who actually contribute to their pomp and circumstance.