Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In the School for Hypocrites

Scene: In a classroom of the College for Bishops. A teacher is just finishing his lecture to the assembled Bishops, who are all from Province IV of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

David Booth Beers: . . . And so that is pretty much what I have to tell you. As your guest lecturer today, I have introduced to you, the bishops of Province IV, both the newest and the oldest among you -- [pauses and waves at the Bishop of Southeast Florida] hi, Leo -- the exciting new world of the revamped Title IV Canons of the Episcopal Church, with a special emphasis on what the changes mean for diocesan bishops. I will now be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Bishop in front row (raises hand): You said that we are now all operating under the new Title IV of the Canons, which went into effect last July 1, but what about the Diocese of South Carolina? Mark Lawrence isn't here -- but I heard that they objected to the new Title IV taking effect in their diocese.

David Booth Beers: Yes, we (that is, Mary Kostel and I) are looking into that as I speak. Suffice it to say that his position is not going to fly. So long as Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese are Episcopalian -- and one of the points we stress in the courts is that, although people may decide to leave the Church, dioceses never can -- they are equally subject to the canons approved by General Convention.

Bishop in second row (raises hand): But it was the whole Diocese that voted not to accept the new Canons. How can a bishop force his Diocese to do something it does not want to do? And if he can't do it, how can the Church as a whole do it?

David Booth Beers: It's not complicated. If they will not do what we want, we get rid of their Bishop and call a new Convention. We will strictly control who can attend. There will be a required oath of loyalty to 815, for instance. Then that new Convention declares the acts passed by the old Convention to be null and void.

Same Bishop: And if they ignore those actions?

David Booth Beers: Not a problem -- we sue them to be recognized as the only Episcopal Diocese. And once we win that suit -- which we will, because we're the Episcopal Church, and so we control whom the courts will recognize -- we take back all their property.

Bishop toward the back: But what about the quitclaim deeds he gave to all his parishes? Granted, your "new Convention" can revive the old diocesan Constitution and adopt all the new Title IV Canons, but how can it undo the effect of those?

David Booth Beers: Simple, again. The new Convention passes a new Dennis Canon, and immediately reimposes on every parish property a new trust, from that day forward. If they then try to leave, they are toast.

Same Bishop: But that's not what the South Carolina Supreme Court says. If I read the "Anglican Curmudgeon" right, that Court --

David Booth Beers (interrupting): Curmudgeon, Furmudgeon -- you shouldn't even be going to that site, let alone reading his trash. The South Carolina Court's decision was unique to All Saints Waccamaw parish, and we think we can convince them otherwise with respect to all the other parishes, especially given the recent decision in our favor from the Georgia Supreme Court, which is right next door.

Bishop in front row: At any rate, you'll keep them all tied up in litigation for years, right? You plan on the result that they'll throw in the towel after they get their first huge legal bills.

David Booth Beers: Now you're getting it. We have literally hundreds of millions of dollars of trust funds which we have scarcely yet begun to tap into. And since we control Executive Council, which determines the funds which are appropriate to tap, there is no obstacle to the Church's access to all the funds it could ever need to pay for litigation. Meanwhile, what do they on the opposite side have? Actually, we know, because we talk to their bankers, and we'll get their money all tied up before we file even the first lawsuit.

Bishop in back, who hasn't spoken thus far: But what if one particular parish, just as All Saints did, takes you all the way to the Supreme Court again? And what if the Court again sides with that parish?

David Booth Beers: Fine -- then that parish wins, and gets to keep its property. But that would not decide all the other cases there and then. We have the resources to keep litigating against each and every other parish, claiming that their circumstances are unique, and hence different from any case decided by the Supreme Court. And we can continue doing that for as long as it takes to make them succumb, and turn over their property to us. Then, when one of them surrenders their property to us, we sell it -- for whatever we can get, and apply the proceeds to the ongoing litigation against the others.

(Pauses.) You folks may not realize it, from where you sit, but we who are your attorneys realize that the Dennis Canon is like the Golden Goose: it keeps laying golden eggs for us -- and so why should we ever want to kill it? It is the most fearsome weapon ever invented to keep wayward parishes in line, and we, the Church's attorneys, will not ever, ever, give it up.

Bishop in the back, again: Let me just get this clear. You are saying, first, that you can get a bishop deposed for the corporate acts of his diocese? I mean, Bishop Lawrence did not hold any claim in his name to the title of his parishes' properties under the Dennis Canon; only his Diocese did. So when the quitclaim deeds were issued, it was the Diocese that was releasing any interest it had, and not Bishop Lawrence personally.

David Booth Beers: And your question is?

Bishop in the back (who is now revealed to be Bishop Young, of the Diocese of East Tennessee): Well, I mean -- I mean, my own diocese, the Diocese of East Tennessee, does not have a clause in its Constitution by which we accede to the national Canons -- just like South Carolina. But we're still regarded as a full-fledged member of the Church. So are you saying you could ask the House of Bishops to depose me because my Diocese has not seen fit to accede to the Canons?

Another Bishop (Bishop Duncan, of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast): Wait a minute -- that's the case in my Diocese, too: our corporate articles accede only to the national Constitution, and not to the Church's Canons as such. Are you saying you could get me deposed?

Immediately another Bishop (Bishop Curry, of North Carolina) jumps up: Hey, that's the case in my Diocese, too! How can you hold me responsible for the way my Diocese chooses to express its union with the national Church?

Consternation ensues. Bishop Gray of Mississippi yells out: In our Diocese, we simply acknowledge the authority of General Convention -- we don't particularly accede to anything -- Constitution or Canons. Does that mean you can ask the new Disciplinary Board to charge me personally with violating the national Constitution?

Other bishops now join in the chorus: Bishop Thompson of Louisiana, Bishop Bauerschmidt of Tennessee, Bishop Howard of Florida, and Bishop Johnson of West Tennessee all chime in with their objections, based on similar grounds. A general uproar ensues, which the Lecturer, with considerable yelling and difficulty, finally shouts down.

David Booth Beers: ALL RIGHT, ALREADY!! QUIET DOWN!! Listen to me: I say, quiet down! You Bishops who have protested, because your own Dioceses don't do anything different from what the Diocese of South Carolina has done, have nothing to fear. Do you hear me? I say, as the Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, we know who you are, and you have nothing to fear.

Bishop Lawrence is in trouble, not because of anything his Diocese has done, but because of what he personally has done to reject the authority of our Presiding Bishop, and of the national Church. Bottom line is: whether or not you "accede" to the national Constitution or Canons, do you as Bishop of your Diocese acknowledge them, and not try to have your diocese circumvent them? As long as you do not make any trouble for us, we won't make any trouble for you. It's that simple.

Bishop Gray: But how could we, with our dioceses not doing anything different from what South Carolina has done, take any part in proceeding against Bishop Lawrence?

David Booth Beers: You won't have to. Now listen up, and listen carefully: There are some of you bishops in Province IV, the same province of Bishop Lawrence, whose Dioceses' constitutions do properly accede to the national Constitution and to the Canons. Bishop Parsley, for instance, of Alabama -- I know that your Diocese has set an example, by agreeing to be bound by both the national Constitution and the Canons in two places -- in your State's charter, and in your local Canons. Not only do you agree to be bound by them, but you expressly agree, in blank, to be bound as those documents may be amended from time to time, so I would cite your Diocese as a model for all others to emulate.

The same goes for Bishop Alexander, of Atlanta; for Bishop Benhase of Georgia, for Bishop Taylor of Western North Carolina, for Bishop Daniel, of Eastern North Carolina, for Bishop Frade, of Southeast Florida, for Bishop Smith, of Southwest Florida, for Bishop White, of Kentucky, for Bishop Knudsen, interim Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, and finally for Bishop Waldo, who is Mark Lawrence's closest neighbor. It would also go for Bishop Howe, of Central Florida, except I understand he's not attending this class, probably because he's about to retire. So there are a good number of you who can stand up to Bishop Lawrence, without being shamed by your own Dioceses.

Bishop Clifton Daniel: But what would you like us to do?

David Booth Beers: Not me, personally, but I'll tell you what the Presiding Bishop would like you to do. [Bishop] Dorsey Henderson's Disciplinary Board recently fizzled out on us, and ++Katharine wants someone to carry the ball forward. We need those of you who are in the same Province as Bishop Lawrence, Province IV -- and who can do so without embarrassment, on account of your dioceses' governing documents, to take Bishop Lawrence aside, face to face with him, and let him know, in no uncertain terms, just what's in store for him and his diocese should he continue on his present path.

That was the point of my lecture to you today. Some of you might have thought you were attending a regular class of your College of Bishops, but I can tell you now that I came down here because Bishop Katharine asked me to move the ball forward, and to keep the heat on Mark Lawrence -- so I set this up with your secretaries. And now that we're all here, and that I've been completely frank with you, I have to ask: what are you going to do about it?

There is considerable chatter and whispering among the assembled Bishops. Finally, Bishop Clifton Daniel addresses Chancellor Beers: You say Katharine wants us to do this for her?

David Booth Beers: Would I make this up? Trust me, she wants you to step out for her, and show your allegiance.

Bishop Daniel: Well, since I know her well, and serve on her Council of Advice, I guess I could do something.

David Booth Beers: That's great -- just what we wanted to see. I suggest you write Mark Lawrence a letter, and tell him you want to meet with him to discuss things openly. Make it pastoral in character -- you know, cite the Gospel or some such about how Christians should get together to discuss their differences before taking matters to a larger body, like the House of Bishops in this instance.

Bishop Daniel: And whom should I have with me when we meet?

David Booth Beers: Exactly the ones I named earlier, whose Dioceses fully acceded to both the national Constitution and to the Canons -- or as many of you as can make it. Can you do that -- for Bishop Katharine?

Bishop Daniel consults with those around him, then addresses the Chancellor: Yes, I guess we can do that. I'll write a letter inviting him for a talk, and send it to you first for clearance.

David Booth Beers: That's fine. And then after we clear it, and you let me know you've sent it, we'll give it to ENS to publicize -- that'll put maximum pressure on him and his Diocese.

Bishop Daniel: Please tell Katharine for me that it's as good as done.

David Booth Beers: Thank you. We knew we could count on you.


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