Saturday, April 28, 2012

ECUSA: Hollow Gains, Pointless Losses

The end of the week brought two three pieces of news on the Church litigation front. In the first, the trial judge in the litigation over the property of the Diocese of Quincy issued an order requiring the Episcopal Church (USA) immediately to pay $18,000 to the Anglican Diocese in sanctions for the needless costs caused by ECUSA's first filing, then later withdrawing and resubmitting, its papers for summary judgment -- a motion which eventually the court denied.

One can tell, from reading Judge Ortbal's order in the Quincy action, that he was seriously displeased with the conduct of ECUSA's counsel which led to the imposition of sanctions:

5. In setting the scheduling and deadlines for the Motion for Summary Judgment Plaintiffs advised that they intended to file motions to strike directed to the affidavits filed in support ofTEC's Motion for Summary Judgment. 
6. Plaintiffs requested that their response to the Summary Judgment Motion be deferred until any hearing and ruling on their proposed motions to strike was concluded, given the number, length and volume ofTEC's supporting affidavits and based upon their intention to have their retained expert respond specifically to each statement, claim and opinion of TEC' s opinion witness affidavits. 
7. TEC objected to deferring the deadline for the Plaintiffs' response to their Summary Judgment Motion...   
8. Over the objections of Plaintiffs, the court accepted the proposed deadline of TEC and Plaintiffs were ordered to file their response to the TEC's Motion for Summary Judgment on the same date as TEC's deadline for responding to any motions to strike affidavits, that being on or before June 6, 2011. 
9. On June 1, 2011, TEC, without leave of court, sent correspondence to the court and counsel advising they were "withdrawing" certain affidavits filed in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, a copy of which correspondence is attached to this Order as Exhibit A.
So ECUSA's (TEC's) attorneys "withdrew" their voluminous affidavits rather than respond to plaintiffs' motion to strike them -- but they had previously insisted that Quincy's attorneys had to respond to their entire motion -- including Quincy's affidavits prepared to counter the ones ECUSA had submitted. Then, having seen Quincy's affidavits in response, the ECUSA attorneys filed new affidavits (not including, this time, any affidavit by their retained expert Prof. Mullin), which required Quincy to throw out everything they had rushed to get ready, and to start over.  The judge quite properly has now ordered ECUSA to reimburse Quincy for the expert fees and attorneys' fees it incurred in responding to the motion they unilaterally withdrew at the last minute.  

* * * * * *
In the second piece of news, a Tennessee appeals court justice, after working on it for more than a year, issued a long, rambling and ultimately meaningless opinion affirming the equally confused opinion of a Nashville trial court chancellor, which awarded all of the real and personal property of St. Andrew's Anglican Parish to the Diocese of Tennessee and its bishop, the Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt.

The victory in Nashville is another case of the Episcopal Church playing the role of the dog in the manger. There is no "remnant parish" waiting to fill the pews at St. Andrew's, once the Anglican congregation leaves; St. Andrew's had been an orthodox, Anglo-Catholic parish in the Diocese from its formation until it transferred to the Anglican Diocese of Quincy in 2006. Bishop Bauerschmidt and his Diocese must have brought their lawsuit because of the value of the parish's real estate, estimated at around $3 million in burgeoning Nashville. At the hearing held to establish the amount of the bond to be posted for the appeal, the bishop's attorneys had claimed that they could rent the property out for as much as $12,500 per month. Well, now they will have their chance.

The opinion by Presiding Justice Patricia Cottrell of the Court of Appeals rambles on for twenty pages before finally adopting the rationale of the recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court in the appeal of the Bishop Seabury parish: the Dennis Canon trumps state trust law, and because the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical", it can create trusts by fiat whenever it wants to. Along the way, Justice Cottrell sweeps under the rug the fact that St. Andrew's parish had changed its corporate articles in 1978 to remove its accession to the constitutions and canons of ECUSA and the Diocese. That was a year before General Convention appears to have enacted the Dennis Canon (there is no way of conclusively proving that it did so).

The fact that the parish had withdrawn its consent to be governed by Episcopal canons a year before the Church tried to impose a trust on all parish properties everywhere made no difference to the Court of Appeal. Just the very fact of continuing to stay in the Diocese of Tennessee was enough to override the parish's attempt to keep its land free of any trust, although the opinion does not even acknowledge that attempt:
While the Trust Canon, or Dennis Canon, was adopted after the Property was transferred to St. Andrew’s, when the congregation decided to associate with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese in 1960, and when St. Andrew’s filed their Articles of Incorporation in 1966, the parish agreed to be bound by the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church and the Diocese. St. Andrew’s remained a parish within The Episcopal Church and the Diocese long after the Dennis Cannon was adopted by the Church’s governing body. [Op. at 18.]
This is just one blatant example of how Justice Cottrell simply ignores inconvenient facts, and proceeds as if they were not there. (She notes the fact of the amendment at page 7 of her opinion, but does not discuss its significance after that.) She also brushes off the contrary views of St. Andrew's experts who testified that the Episcopal Church does not have a hierarchical structure:
St. Andrew’s contends that it created a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether The Episcopal Church is hierarchical for temporal matters, including property disputes. St. Andrew’s submitted an affidavit by a former bishop of a diocese in Illinois, an affidavit by a board member of a diocese in Florida, and a document entitled Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of The Episcopal Church (the “Bishops’ Statement”). The former bishop stated that The Episcopal Church is not hierarchical for any purpose. The board member opined that The Episcopal Church is not hierarchical for “the issues in this dispute.” The Bishops’ Statement is dated April 18, 2009, and appears to be authored by fifteen or so bishops and former bishops, but does not appear to be sanctioned by The Episcopal Church or the General Convention. The Bishops’ Statement suggests, inter alia, that The Episcopal Church is a voluntary association of equal dioceses.  
The affidavits St. Andrew’s offered do not create a disputed issue of material fact because the affiants were simply offering their opinions and interpretations of the constitutions and canons, not facts....
Ultimately, her opinion is so self-contradictory as to render it meaningless for anyone to use as a precedent. Justice Cottrell spends half of her opinion explaining the precedents which hold that while civil courts may not decide religious questions, they may decide religious property disputes if they can do so without making an extensive inquiry into religious doctrine or polity. (The same point was made at some length at pp. 3-14 in the amicus brief filed last week in the Fort Worth case by the Communion Partner bishops and the Anglican Communion Institute.) But then, having established that point with page after page of citation to precedent, look at how she flatly contradicts herself on the question of ECUSA's hierarchical structure:
The constitutions and canons, as well as St. Andrew’s filings and Articles of Association, speak for themselves and are determinative of the issue. As discussed earlier in this opinion, when resolving disputes involving hierarchical churches, the courts will defer to the highest church authority on questions of church governance. In such situations, the courts “are bound to look at the fact that the local congregation is itself but a member of a much larger and more important religious organization, and is under its government and control, and is bound by its orders and judgments.” Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. at 726-27. We think that includes interpretation of church governing documents and interpretation of the basic organization of the church. Consequently, we cannot conclude that there is a factual question regarding the organization and governance of The Episcopal Church and will not inquire into it.
Well, which is it, Justice Cottrell? Are you precluded from making a factual inquiry into the hierarchical nature of ECUSA because to do so would involve you to an impermissible degree with the "interpretation of church governing documents and interpretation of the basic organization of the church"?

Or do the constitution and canons of the church "speak for themselves" -- even though, as pointed out in the ACI's Fort Worth brief,
. . . there is no explicit language in The Episcopal Church’s governing constitution identifying in express legal terms of hierarchy or supremacy any central body or office allegedly superior to the diocesan bishop [footnote omitted]. Indeed, none of the following terms routinely used in legal documents to indicate hierarchical priority is found at all in The Episcopal Church constitution: “supreme”; “supremacy”; “highest”; “hierarchical”; “subordinate”; “sole”; “preempt”; and “final.”
If you are ruling out all factual inquiry into the structure of the Episcopal Church (USA), Justice Cottrell, then you are saying that the First Amendment prohibits your court from doing what ECUSA itself has asked the Texas Supreme Court to do, by submitting "a 70-page affidavit by an expert witness on TEC history accompanied by an affidavit from a church archivist sponsoring 700 pages of historical documents spanning over 200 years."

But at the same time, if you have concluded that the Church's governing documents "speak for themselves" and say that the Church is "hierarchical," because that is how they have been interpreted by "the highest church authority on questions of church governance", then of what "highest authority" are you speaking, Justice Cottrell? And how can you determine just what the "highest authority" in ECUSA actually is without first examining its structure to see whether it really is hierarchical?

Perhaps the reason it took so long for Justice Cottrell to write her opinion is that she was so confused by the issues she tries to address. If that is the case, however, it is manifest that she remains as confused as ever -- and her two silent partners on the bench have done nothing to help her. All they did was join their names to her successful essay at self-refutation.

* * * * *
Finally, the third piece of Episcopal litigation news is that late Friday evening, Judge Bellows signed an order denying the motion for a stay from his earlier judgment requested by The Falls Church, to take effect pending its appeal of that decision.Had it been granted, the stay would have prevented TFC from having to turn over to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia all of its property by next Tuesday, and to vacate its premises completely by May 15. Apparently Judge Bellows stayed at the courthouse late while the two sides tried to negotiate an arrangement which would have allowed TFC Anglican congregation to remain on the property pending the appeal. (In an earlier ruling, Judge Bellows had signaled that he lacked the power to force any such arrangement on the parties; they would have to reach one voluntarily, if at all.)

This development will entail a massive disruption in the operations of TFC Anglican. It is not known what back-up plans they have in readiness; they could perhaps ask the Virginia Supreme Court for an emergency stay. If they do move out next week, it is equally unclear how the Diocese of Virginia plans to use the extensive facilities. The Episcopal congregation which is waiting to occupy the property is a fraction of the size of the Anglican congregation, and will most likely require a sizeable subsidy from the Diocese to be able to pay for its upkeep in addition to their own expenses.

Thus, whether or not another chapter of "The Dog in the Manger" is about to play itself out will shortly  be seen. This development will put the credibility of Bishop Johnston and his Diocese on the line. He has made several public statements to the effect that his Diocese is prepared to take charge of all of the former parishes' properties -- and now it will be assuming responsibility for the last and largest of them. If the properties end up being sold to strangers, whether in other denominations or in different lines of business entirely, then all of the talk about "keeping the property for future Episcopalians" will ring as hollow as the dog's barking in the manger.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Have They Violated Title IV? Ten Brave Episcopal Clergy Defy ECUSA in Fort Worth Case

Yesterday, seven bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) -- five active, and two resigned (retired) -- joined the three Episcopal priests in the Anglican Communion Institute in filing an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in the Texas Supreme Court appeal brought by Bishop Jack L. Iker and his Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth to overturn the summary judgment granted by the District Court in favor of ECUSA and its rump diocese and parishes. The arguments in the brief present a view directly contrary to the view expressed in the case by the Church's attorneys that ECUSA is "hierarchical."

[Side note: Despite all the magic hand-waving by ECUSA's Presiding Bishop and its General Convention, there is one and only one way to have a diocese become a member of the association of dioceses known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. That one way is spelled out, in very clear words, in Article V of ECUSA's Constitution, and it has not changed in over 200 years. The faux "Diocese of Fort Worth" is here so called (and also denominated with adjectives like "rump", "Potemkin", "ersatz", or similar words) because it has not gone through that constitutional procedure. Unless and until it does, it is not a genuine ECUSA diocese, no matter how many official pronouncements issue from no matter what quarter of the Church. End of side note.]

The bishops joining in the brief are +Benitez (resigned - Texas), +Howe (resigned - Central Florida), +Lambert (suffragan - Dallas), +Love (Albany), +MacPherson (Western Louisiana), +Martins (Springfield), and +Stanton (Dallas). The three priests are the Rev. Prof. Christopher Seitz, the Very Rev. Dr. Philip Turner III, and the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner.

Earlier, the merits brief filed with the Court by ECUSA's attorneys contained the following statement at pp. 24-25:
As every court in the nation that has addressed the question has concluded, The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church [footnote omitted]. The undisputed evidence in this case confirms that conclusion. The Church’s governing documents clearly reflect the Church’s three-tier structure, with the General Convention at the top tier.
The amicus brief just filed, on the other hand, states at p. 16:
In this dispute, both sides do in fact agree that there is no explicit language in The Episcopal Church’s governing constitution identifying in express legal terms of hierarchy or supremacy any central body or office allegedly superior to the diocesan bishop [footnote omitted]. Indeed, none of the following terms routinely used in legal documents to indicate hierarchical priority is found at all in The Episcopal Church constitution: “supreme”; “supremacy”; “highest”; “hierarchical”; “subordinate”; “sole”; “preempt”; and “final.”
So how could all those courts trumpeted (in the omitted footnote) in ECUSA's brief have found that ECUSA was "hierarchical"? Simple.

ECUSA's attorneys are playing their usual game of "look over there while we hide the ball over here." All of the cases cited by ECUSA as making that finding were cases involving relationships between bishops/dioceses, on the one side, vs. clergy/parishes on the other.

But the Fort Worth case is not that case: it involves one bishop and his diocese against other dioceses and their bishops who have joined into an association. Bishop Iker and his diocese withdrew from the association, as was their constitutional right under the First Amendment's freedom of association. The other bishops and their dioceses have sued Bishop Iker and his diocese for all of the diocesan properties and bank accounts.

Since when does an association to which you belong have the right to claim all of your property if you decide to leave it? (Hint to ECUSA and its attorneys: the Dennis Canon, which the dioceses and bishops invoked with the Church in those "many cases" alluded to earlier, makes a claim only to parish property, and not to the property of a diocese as such. So your argument that dioceses have to surrender their property upon withdrawal is without precedent in Church history, and indeed is specifically contradicted by its history during the Civil War.)

For ECUSA and its attorneys, all they have to do is wave the magic word "hierarchical" about, and courts must allow their claims. That is why the amicus brief filed by some of its own clergy, which points out the Emperor's lack of clothes on this occasion, must be both an embarrassment, and also no small irritant. After all, if the "Church" is at the top of the "three-tiered hierarchy," why can't the "Church" keeps its bishops and clergy in line?

Well, could it?

Could the leaders of ECUSA now lodge disciplinary charges under the new Title IV (that went into effect last July) against the seven bishops and three priests who have dared to defy them in open court, in an act no less brave than that of the Burghers of Calais? Let's go be a fly on the wall at 815, and see:

  Scene: in a conference room in the chambers of the Presiding Bishop at 815 Second Avenue, New York City. Huddled together at a table are the Presiding Bishop, her Chancellor, and her Special Presidential Assistant for Litigation.

 CHANCELLOR: The offenses for which a bishop or clergy may be charged under new Canon IV.3 include "knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church or of any Diocese. . . ." The problem is that there is no Constitutional or canonical provision I can find in the entire Church which says that you cannot file briefs as a friend of the court. So, Mary, what else might we try?

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: Well, under new Canon IV.4, all clergy in the Church must abide by certain "standards of conduct," such as these:
(b) conform to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer; (c) abide by the promises and vows made when ordained;
 PRESIDING BISHOP: The BCP says nothing about amicus briefs, and I'm pretty sure the ordination vows don't, either. Couldn't I simply issue these meddlesome priests a Pastoral Directive to stay out of the Fort Worth proceedings? Then we could charge them with insubordination.

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: But you would have had to issue the Directive before they filed the brief. I'm afraid we forgot to include any authority to issue Pastoral Directives on an ex post facto basis.

 CHANCELLOR: Mary, dammit, make a note of that for the next GC.

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: What about the requirement in subsection (e) to "safeguard the property and funds of the Church and Community"? Surely what they've done fails to safeguard our right to +Iker's property.

 CHANCELLOR: They would simply argue that that's the very question involved in the Fort Worth case, and that until the Court decides it, we won't know whether it's our property or not. Besides, we're saving the first case under that section for Bishop Lawrence, as you know. We can't risk establishing a bad precedent with others first.

 PRESIDING BISHOP: Wait -- there's this: it says in (h)(2) that all clergy in the Church must refrain from "holding and teaching publicly or privately, and advisedly, any Doctrine contrary to that held by the Church...". Couldn't we pretend, David, that whatever you write in any of our briefs in these cases was Church doctrine?

 CHANCELLOR: Nice try, Bishop Katharine, but that canon has "Doctrine" with a capital "D". And that's a term defined in Canon IV.2 [reads]:
Doctrine shall mean the basic and essential teachings of the Church and is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.
 PRESIDING BISHOP: Not a great loss, I guess. I don't really put much stock in that Canon anyway, since the trial of Bishop Righter. 

 CHANCELLOR [beneath his breath]: So some have observed.

 PRESIDING BISHOP [sharply looking at the Chancellor]: What's that you say?

 CHANCELLOR: Nothing. I just said that was an astute observation. [Pauses.] It looks to me, Mary, as though we've got only one charge left.

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: You mean, the "catch-all"?

 CHANCELLOR: The very one. [In a mockingly spectral voice:] Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy.

 PRESIDING BISHOP: But hasn't that got its own special definition, too? Seems to me I remember something about dear old "Chuckles" Bennison...

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: You are right, Your Grace. The term is defined as [reads]:
... any disorder or neglect that prejudices the reputation, good order and discipline of the Church, or any conduct of a nature to bring material discredit upon the Church or the Holy Orders conferred by the Church.
 PRESIDING BISHOP: Well, there we have it, then -- I can charge them with "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy." Mary, you draw up the charges, and run them by David before bringing them to me to sign. 

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: But what's the specific violation?

 PRESIDING BISHOP: Don't you see? They have written words to say that we are not "hierarchical" -- and not only that, they had the nerve to file them in a court proceeding adverse to us. They accused us, in essence of not speaking the truth. That is certainly intended to bring discredit on us.

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: But won't they just respond that they were the ones speaking the truth?

 PRESIDING BISHOP: What's wrong with you, Mary? Have you forgotten what it says in John 18:38? [Reads:] "Pilate asked: what is truth?"

 SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR LITIGATION: But didn't Pilate say that in response to Jesus's statement that he came to testify to the truth?

 PRESIDING BISHOP: Exactly, Mary -- good for you. If Jesus Christ could get into trouble for speaking the truth in a court of law, then so can these infernal bishops. Now, draw up the charges!

 [Scene darkens as a fly is heard buzzing in the background.]

Saturday, April 21, 2012

New Edition of "Tearing the Fabric" Is Online

The American Anglican Council has published on its Website a newly updated (as of April 2012) edition of its classic resource: Tearing the Fabric. The compilation is more useful than ever, but also more desultory than ever, as well.

It starts out with a collection of quotations from ECUSA's heretics, including this classic statement of the "faith once handed down" (not!) by the former rector of All Saints Pasadena (which shows why that church went the way it did):
"'I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me.' The first thing I want you to explore with me is this: I simply refuse to hold the doctrine that there is no access to God except through Jesus. I personally reject the claim that Christianity has the truth and all other religions are in error... I think it is a mistaken view to say Christianity is superior to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism and that Christ is the only way to God and salvation." The Rev. Dr. George F. Regas, Rector Emeritus, All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, California, April 24, 2005, guest sermon at Washington National Cathedral
And of course, it does not fail to include gems from the Presiding Bishop, such as these:
TIME Question: Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
Katherine Jefferts Schori: We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, TIME Magazine interview, July 10, 2006 CNN  
Question: So what happens after I die?
Jefferts Schori: What happens after you die? I would ask you that question. But what‘s important about your life? What is it that has made you a unique individual? What is the passion that has kept you getting up every morning and engaging the world? There are hints within that about what it is that continues after you die. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, interview by CNN Live, June 19, 2006
The document continues with a section on the "Fruits of TEC's Theology", including "Syncretism", "Promoting Abortion", "Weakening Traditional Marriage", and more.

It also has a useful compilation of ECUSA statistics, including a nifty graph showing the decline in active membership from 2.32 million in 2002 to 1.95 million in 2010.  Then it concludes with a compendium of all the litigation with which ECUSA has harassed its congregations, bishops and clergy since 2004. The list of more than 78 lawsuits initiated by ECUSA and its dioceses demonstrates how their pace has accelerated in recent years.*

It is an invaluable resource, and I commend it to your attention.


*Note: Even though the catalog of lawsuits was completely up-to-date as of April 10 or so, recent events in the Virginia litigation have already passed it by: Truro Church and St. Paul's (Haymarket) have both reached settlements with the Diocese of Virginia in the last two weeks. Both are paying money to the Diocese; St. Paul's will be vacating its buildings as of April 30, while Truro will stay in its current building for another year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Judge Bellows Puts Stay Hearing over to April 27

The following brief announcement appeared today on the Website of the Diocese of Virginia:
Court Declines to Rule on Stay; Will Hear Evidence April 274/18/2012  
The Fairfax Circuit Court heard today the Falls Church Anglican’s motion for a stay to suspend the court’s order until its appeal is decided. The court determined that it has jurisdiction over the matter, and that it could not impose a sharing arrangement on the parties. The court will hear evidence on the factors it must consider on whether to grant the stay at 2 p.m., Friday, April 27.
This statement is too laconic, and does not elaborate on what "impos[ing] a sharing arrangement" would mean. Presumably each side had different proposals for how the property would be used pending the outcome of the appeal, and Judge Bellows decided that he could not force any one side to accept some kind of shared use arrangement in the absence of a mutual agreement. The "evidence" which will be presented at the hearing next Friday will give us a sense of whether the Diocese of Virginia is being more reasonable, or not.

Just two weeks ago, it was complaining to the court that Truro Church had failed to be cooperative in disclosing all of the assets which the Diocese felt should be turned over under the Court's order. The Diocese was saying that Truro owed it "at least" $72,421; Truro was claiming that under the terms of the court's order, the amount was considerably less. And now those parties have announced their settlement of their differences, with Truro agreeing to hand over a round $50,000.00.

The argument which The Falls Church will be making to Judge Bellows may be seen here. From that document, it appears that the parties' current differences to be resolved by the court are as follows:

 1. The Episcopal Diocese first tried to argue that while Judge Bellows had retained jurisdiction to enforce his final judgment, Virginia law gave him no jurisdiction to suspend its operation (issue a "stay") pending an appeal. As we can see from the notice posted, Judge Bellows today resolved that issue in favor of The Falls Church, and held that he did have the jurisdiction to issue a stay.

 2. Next, the Episcopal Diocese argued that Judge Bellows could issue a stay of his judgment only if he determined that The Falls Church had a "probability of success" on its proposed appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. This was overreaching by the Diocese. Not only does such a requirement not apply to the issuance of a stay (it is rather a requirement for the issuance of a preliminary injunction, commanding someone not to do something while the court sorts things out), but it would require Judge Bellows to engage in a surreal type of prognostication, and predict the likelihood that the current Virginia Supreme Court would exercise its discretion to hear an appeal. (In Virginia, there is no automatic right of appeal in civil cases. Such appeals are heard only by the Virginia Supreme Court, and it does not have to accept an appeal from the lower court unless it wants to hear and resolve the issue(s) involved.) I anticipate that Judge Bellows will give this argument short shrift, as well.

 3. The big argument is, of course, over the property. In the case of The Falls Church, the amount of funds on hand as of early 2007 that must be handed over pursuant to Judge Bellows' final order is very substantial -- the reply brief submitted by the Church admits to an amount of about $2,720,000.00. The Falls Church has offered to pay this amount into the registry of the Court, together with interest on it for nine months at the rate of six percent. In addition, The Falls Church has offered to pay for the mortgage and upkeep on all of the property pending the appeal, as the price of occupying it during that time period.

When the Episcopal congregation in Falls Church objected that they would have to continue to pay $750 per month to the Presbyterian Church if they could not occupy the property pending the appeal, The Falls Church offered to reimburse it for that sum as well. Not satisfied with that offer, the Episcopal Diocese wants The Falls Church to pay it "rent" on top of its paying for the mortgage and all expenses of upkeep -- even though, were the Anglican congregation to become a simple lessee of the property, it would be the Diocese that would have to pay the mortgage and similar expenses.

But the Diocese wants to have its cake and eat it, too -- it wants The Falls Church to pay it an amount in rent equivalent to all the mortgage and upkeep expenses, and then to pay for those expenses directly, as well -- thereby allowing the Diocese to pocket a tidy sum each month without having to use that money to defray the expenses of the property. (And this is the outfit which Bishop Johnston is trying to portray as being the very soul of Christian reasonableness towards its "brothers in Christ".)

Understandably, the Anglican congregation rejects that outlandish proposal in its reply papers, linked above. But what is more, The Falls Church rejects a further proposal by the Episcopal Diocese that it share the premises with the much smaller remnant congregation while it is paying all that extra rent. In answer to that proposal, The Falls Church (Anglican) wrote in its reply brief (p.11):
Second, the Diocese proposes that TFCE [the Episcopal remnant congregation] have regular use of the Historic Church and related offices. TFCA [the Anglican congregation] opposes this proposal. Throughout this litigation, it has been clear that fundamental differences in theology and the teaching of Scripture have developed between the Diocese/TEC and TFCA. These differences have led the members of TFCA to the agonizing decision to sever the affiliation with the Diocese and TEC. Both sides have recognized the importance of a complete break to avoid confusion among the public. Thus, the Diocese and TEC have insisted that TFCA not use any name, websites, signage or other media which suggests some continuing connection between TFCA and them. TFCA believes that regular, dual services at the property would lead to confusion among parishioners who would have to decide which door to enter. In addition, TFCA regularly uses the Historic Church and needs that space.
The reply brief attaches the latest annual report of the Episcopal remnant congregation as an exhibit, and it is very telling. While some 3,250 Anglicans attended Easter services at The Falls Church two weeks ago, the Episcopal parish's report shows that it has a total membership of exactly 178 as of the end of 2010, and that its total annual budget has income of $233,641, but expenses of $249,306 (i.e., it is out-of-balance by some $16,000). That is less than what has to be paid each year just to keep up the property -- let alone pay for salaries, insurance, retirement benefits and all the other expenses of operating a full-time parish.

But that reality does not stop the Episcopal Diocese from asking Judge Bellows to let it have every conceivable benefit from its victory, pending the appeal. Instead of settling simply the amount of the appeal bond, stipulating to a stay and allowing the appeal to go forward (or not, as the Virginia Supreme Court decides), Bishop Johnston and his Diocese are continuing to pay their attorneys to oppose the Anglicans in court every step of the way, by every argument imaginable, whether meritorious or not.

This church chancellor, for one, hopes that Judge Bellows is beginning to see the monster which his decision has unleashed.

You Mean to Say: There Are Limits?

Lionel Deimel apparently supports his Bishop only so far, and no farther. It may be one thing for an Episcopal Bishop to bring a bunch of lawsuits in Mr. Deimel's name (and indeed, in the name of the whole Episcopal Church [USA]), but it is apparently too much for Mr. Deimel if that same Bishop subscribes his name to a cause of which Mr. Deimel does not approve -- as he makes clear in his post "An Episcopal Bridge Too Far", the highlights of which may be read below:
I was upset to learn today that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh—its bishop, anyway—signed on to a statement by Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania (CASP) expressing opposition to the federal mandate that institutions with a religious affiliation must provide no-cost contraceptives to their female employees. . . .
In the opinion of Mr. Lionel Deimel, the statement which his Bishop signed is "nonsensical", because it states:
Today, we speak together about two shared concerns: (1) the preservation of religious liberty as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, and (2) the moral imperative of providing healthcare for all, women, men, and children alike. 
And why is this "nonsensical"? Let Mr. Deimel, that most assured of Episcopalians, explain it to you in his own words:
Calling on the federal government to broaden its exemption so that religious-affiliated organizations can avoid paying for contraception, the statement warns:
Many religious institutions are now placed in the untenable position of (a) violating their consciences, (b) ceasing health insurance and paying ruinous fines, or (c) withdrawing entirely from providing the social services to the wider community that have long been a social justice hallmark of their ministry. Creating gaping holes in the public welfare safety net is in and of itself an immense injustice. 
All this is so much nonsense intended to support the absurd position taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have written elsewhere why I believe the bishops are wrong.
Mr. Deimel considers the Obama administration's imperial decree that insurers provide contraception and abortifacient coverage "free of charge" to their customers as "a clever fig leaf" to disguise what is going on -- in other words, he approves of "clever fig leaves", so long as they are of his devising. He does not appreciate, however, his own Bishop calling it what Mr. Deimel says it is -- a fig leaf. And why? Let us listen, for a moment more, to the tergiversations of Mr. Deimel, to which (this time) I have added some bold emphasis to bring out his operating philosophy:
Nowhere in the statement (or at the news conference) is anything said about how what is generally viewed as basic health care for women is to be provided for female employees of religious-affiliated organizations if their employers are relieved of their responsibility for providing it. The expressed concern for universal health care, therefore, seems less than sincere. 
"Generally viewed" by whom, Mr. Deimel? Obviously, you must mean "viewed by Lionel Deimel and all those who are smart enough to agree with his way of thinking." I thought so.

And pray tell us, Mr. Deimel: just who imposed upon employers a "responsibility" to provide "basic health care for women"? Oh -- you say it was the Democrats who passed "Obamacare" in the dark of the night, by every legislative trick at their disposal? In a piece of legislation which now bids fair to be ruled unconstitutional on its face? I guess that counts for something "generally viewed" as legitimate in your ballpark.

But we have not reached the full extent of Mr. Deimel's outrage. No -- it turns out that he saves his wrath for those who would presume to act in his name:
Upset as I am about the CASP statement, I am that much more upset by the fact that my own bishop, Kenneth Price, was willing to lend his support to this horrible document.  
...   It is not actually clear to me that Bishop Price had the right to commit the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the CASP statement, a matter that perhaps will need to be considered at the next diocesan convention. Certainly, he does not represent my own view in this case, and I know he does not represent the views of a number of fellow Episcopalians with whom I have discussed this matter.
The sheer hypocrisy of his position here seems to elude Mr. Deimel, so let me spell it out for him. His same Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Kenneth Price, has signed numerous pleadings in the Pittsburgh litigation in the name of the Episcopal Church (USA).  He has also signed them in cases in other jurisdictions, again claiming to act on behalf of the Episcopal Church (USA).

No one in Mr. Deimel's branch of the Episcopal Church (USA) authorized Bishop Price to sign these court documents -- there was no resolution adoped at General Convention, for example, to allow Bishop Price to represent to a court that he speaks for the entire Episcopal Church (USA).

So give me a break, Lionel Deimel -- spare me your hypocrisy. You consider it a fine thing when Bishop Price signs official court pleadings in your name, and in the name of the Church which you support.

But you consider it "a bridge too far" when that same Bishop signs on to a statement about religious freedom of which you personally disapprove?

Just who is running the Episcopal Church (USA) which you support, Mr. Deimel? And if you disagree with how it is being run, suppose you consider joining the rest of us Episcopalians who think likewise, and actually do something about it?

Just saying, Mr. Deimel -- you're either for what is done in your name as an Episcopalian, or you're not. But I don't see any provision in the Constitution or Canons of ECUSA which lets you pick and choose what you want to support when it is convenient for you, and otherwise lets you oppose what you dislike as "inconvenient."

There is a world out there in which the things you support, Mr. Deimel, are having real consequences for the lives and well-being of others. Rather than complain of those things which have little consequence for that world, such as who shall get free contraception at everyone else's expense, Mr. Deimel, you might wish to reconsider your priorities.

After all, it's not "Episcopalian" to oppose your Bishop -- or so you've been telling us, at any rate, with all the lawsuits that Bishop Price and other ECUSA bishops have instituted in your name.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

After 100 Years, His Example Remains an Inspiration

On this 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, Robin Jordan at Anglicans Ablaze points us to an inspirational account of a passenger about whom I had not heard before:

It has been 100 years since Titanic, the greatest ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 passengers. The "unsinkable ship" had done just that, and on the tragedy's centennial we stand captivated by the story. Many movies, documentaries and books have familiarized us with some of the passengers, such as entrepreneur John Jacob Astor IV or the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown. Yet one of the supreme stories of the Titanic involves a heroic pastor and his passion to save lives and souls.  
When pastor and preacher John Harper and six year old daughter boarded the Titanic it was for the privilege of preaching at one of the greatest churches in America, Moody Church in Chicago, named for its famous founder Dwight L. Moody. The church was anxiously awaiting his arrival not only because of the pending services, but to meet their next pastor, as Harper planned to accept their invitation. Harper was known as an engaging preacher and had pastored two churches in Glasgow and London. His preaching style was suited for an evangelist as testified by the words of another local pastor. "He was a great open-air preacher and could always command large and appreciative audiences. ... He could deal with all kinds of interrupters, his great and intelligent grasp of Bible truths enabling him to successfully combat all assailants."

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, Harper successfully led his daughter to a lifeboat. Being a widower he may have been allowed to join her but instead forsook his own rescue, choosing to provide the masses with one more chance to know Christ. Harper ran person to person, passionately telling others about Christ. As the water began to submerge the "unsinkable" ship, Harper was heard shouting, "women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats." Rebuffed by a certain man at the offer of salvation Harper gave him his own life vest, saying, "you need this more than I do." Up until the last moment on the ship Harper pleaded with people to give their lives to Jesus.

John Harper 
The ship disappeared beneath the deep frigid waters leaving hundreds floundering in its wake with no realistic chance for rescue. Harper struggled through hyperthermia to swim to as many people as he could, still sharing the Gospel. Harper evidentially would lose his battle with hypothermia but not before giving many people one last glorious Gospel witness. Four years after the tragedy at a Titanic survivor's meeting in Ontario, Canada, one survivor recounted his interaction with Harper in the middle of the icy waters of the Atlantic. He testified he was clinging to ship debris when Harper swam up to him, twice challenging him with a biblical invitation to "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." He rejected the offer once. Yet given the second chance and with miles of water beneath his feet, the man gave his life to Christ. Then as Harper succumbed to his watery grave, this new believer was rescued by a returning lifeboat. As he concluded his remarks at the Ontario meeting of survivors he simply stated, "I am the last convert of John Harper." 
When the Titanic set sail there were delineations of three classes of passengers. Yet immediately after the tragedy, the White Star Line in Liverpool, England placed a board outside its office with only two classes of passengers reading, KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. The owners of the Titanic had simply reaffirmed what John Harper already knew. There are people who know Christ and will spend eternity with God in heaven and many others who will not.    
For us, 100 years after the Titanic, may we be as zealous as Harper was with every opportunity to share Christ with the perishing.

A wonderful example, and an inspiration to us all.

For those who might be wondering, here is a follow-up on the Rev. Harper's daughter Nina.

And for those really interested in such things, here is a fantastic graphic which puts the final resting place of Titanic into perspective with other shipwrecks and other bodies of water.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Seven Charts That Tell the Truth

A while back, James Pethokoukis put up a post at the Enterprise Blog entitled "The Seven Most Illuminating Economic Charts of 2011." On reviewing the charts some four months later, I think they are even more relevant to correcting the misinformation put out by President Obama, as he tries to convince the voters to give him another four years -- to wreak even more of the same destruction that has brought us to the present point. These seven charts tell quite a tale.

The first one tells the truth about Obama's claims regarding the unemployment rate -- I am reliably informed that Democratic leaders hate to be reminded of this chart (click to enlarge):

But that first chart tells only half the story, because it reflects the administration's policy of not counting, among the unemployed, those who have long ago given up trying to find a job. Here is a chart that shows the unemployment rate with those people taken into account (again, click to enlarge, and keep this chart in mind to compare with chart no. 6 below):

The next two charts help explode the populist mantra that "the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer." This implies that the middle class is remaining stagnant, while the extremes move farther apart. The trouble is, it's simply not true. New research shows that “median income and consumption both rose by more than 50 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2009":

Not only is the middle class much better off than it was in 1980, but the top percentage of wealth distribution has remained remarkably constant over the same decades. (Total wealth is a better measure of inequality than is income, which can fluctuate widely with economic events.) This surprising fact, which contradicts all of the populist, "Occupy-Wall-Street"-based class envy which the media has been promoting, is shown clearly in this next chart, which tracks the percentage of total wealth in the last century enjoyed by the infamous "1%", who supposedly are hogging more and more of the share of the "99%" (it shows that share is slowly, but steadily, decreasing):

Next, from The Economist, we have two charts which compare the anemic "recovery" under President Obama to all those which have come before, since the Great Depression eighty years ago:

The last chart is published by the Congressional Budget Office (it's in the full document downloadable at the link), and presents an unvarnished depiction of where President Obama's current spending and borrowing policies could take us by 2035, under three different sets of assumptions. The first set assumes that current federal policies, involving ever-increasing borrowing, will have no effects on the economy; the second and the third assume that the effects of the government's cumulative borrowing will have moderate to strong effects, respectively:

The numbers on the scale represent the total amount of federal debt projected to be held by the public as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. So under the best scenario (no long-term effects), total federal debt will be 175% of GDP by 2035, while under more realistic assumptions, the total would be as much as half again higher -- over 250% of GDP.

To translate those projections to household numbers, they are saying that if the U.S. Government in 2035 was the equivalent of a household of $50,000 in income, it would owe somewhere between $100,000 and $125,000 -- with the amount of debt continuing to increase every year. No country has ever lasted long under such conditions.

Indeed, as the last chart shows, we are currently borrowing almost as much as we produce -- debt will equal GDP by the end of the next presidential term of office, if current policies are not reversed. And for debt to go from that ruinous level to more than two-and-a-half times as much in just eighteen years from that point shows what a sickening spiral of debt it will be.

The madness will have to end someday -- better now than later. For the life of me, I cannot understand how any rational person could support a platform that proposes to continue doing what we are doing now. But then, we know the human capacity for denial (remember those who went back to bed after hearing that the Titanic had struck an iceberg).

The next time you encounter someone who is hiding his/her head in the sand, please have them take a look at the above charts, going from first to last. Ask them how the country can borrow $50 if it is only earning $20 (that's borrow $50 trillion against an income of $20 trillion, but most people can't even imagine what $1 trillion looks like). Ask them how it can hope to get out of debt with such high unemployment, and whether they would loan money to someone who has no job, and who owes two-and-a-half times what he receives in benefits and subsidies.

And then ask them how they can vote for more of the same that we have now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Pewster's Primer on Property Lawsuits

This post will serve as an introduction to churchgoers both inside and outside the Episcopal Church (USA) who want to know more about the lawsuits it has brought against congregations and entire dioceses who do not want to remain affiliated with it. The easiest way to address this topic is through a Q and A format.

Q Who is suing whom?

A  Most often, the plaintiffs bringing the lawsuits are the Episcopal Church itself, together with one of its 100+ dioceses, which are its regional members. When a congregation in one of the dioceses serves notice that it is pulling out of the Church (for various reasons), the Church and that diocese file suit against it for its buildings, bank accounts, hymnals, prayer books, vestments, candlesticks, crosses, vessels and altar cloths. Not only that, but they sue the parish rectors and vestry members as well, and frequently seek punitive damages against them, both as a means of punishment and intimidation, and to make it more costly for them to have to defend themselves in addition to their parish.

Q Why do they sue for those things? Don't they belong to the congregation that paid for them, and that saved the money in its bank account?

A On paper, all those things are in the congregation's name, yes, because (almost always) the congregation has paid for them, and neither the Church nor the diocese has paid a thing.  But the Church and the Diocese claim that all the congregation's assets are held in trust, and cannot be used outside of the Church.  So when the congregation votes to leave, the diocese says: "Fine, but leave us your keys, your deeds, and your bank accounts."

Q Did the congregation know about that trust?

A Most often not, until just before the lawsuit is filed.  That's because it was created by passing a Canon (bylaw) at the Church's national convention in 1979, and then neither the Church nor the dioceses told their congregations about it.  Even one of the Church's bishops admitted recently in a lawsuit that "no one expects church members to know much about the Canons."

Q How can the Church enforce a trust that no one knew about?

A Because many courts are allowing them to.  They say to the congregation: "When you joined the Church, you agreed to abide by all of its canons."

Q But did congregations joining the Church in the 1800's agree to abide by a Canon passed in 1979, if they weren't told about it?

A The courts say it doesn't matter. The congregations were supposedly "represented" at the national convention that adopts the Canons, whether they actually knew about them or not.

Q Even if a congregation knew about the 1979 Canon, how can a Church simply declare that a trust exists on all of its parishes' properties, just like that? Wouldn't each congregation have to sign a deed placing its property into such a trust, for it to be recognized in court?

A Again, that's they way everyone else has to create a trust, yes -- the owner of the property in question has to sign a document in writing that places the property into a trust.

Q So how do the courts let the Episcopal Church get away without having the signed consent of each of its congregations?

A Because it's a big national church, and claims it has the power over each of its congregations to do so. And the courts don't like to ask too many questions about the structure and power arrangements of a church, for fear of interfering with the "free exercise" of its religion, under the First Amendment.

Q Has the Church succeeded in each of its lawsuits to date?

A By no means.  Its arguments have been successful to date in about nine states, and have been unsuccessful thus far in about eight others.  Final decisions are still pending in other states.  Each State decides the cases according to its own law of trusts, and those differ widely.

Q Will the differing results ever get resolved?

A The United States Supreme Court could help, by making it clear that an earlier decision was not intended to grant national churches a special privilege to bypass State trust laws

Q Is there any chance of its doing so?

A There are three cases now pending before it asking it to do just that.  We will probably not know whether it will agree to hear them before June, or possibly not even until next October.

Q How much is all this litigation costing?

A I estimate about $25 million to date -- there is nothing so expensive as litigating over 75 lawsuits, some of them through several appeals.  You can read how I arrive at that estimate here.

Q What are the Church and its dioceses doing with the properties they win in their lawsuits?

A Most of the time they have no remaining congregations sufficient to occupy them and pay for their upkeep and the costs of operation, including the salaries. Very few of the properties -- less than half a dozen or so -- are now in the hands of Episcopal congregations who actually use them each week.

Q So what can the diocese do with a property for which there is no congregation?

A It tries to sell it -- and if it does so, it is usually for a loss (in the current market).  It uses the money to defray the costs of litigation.

Q Could the congregation that lost purchase it from the diocese?

A The leadership of the Episcopal Church strongly discourages that, and practically all of the dioceses have refused to sell, to what they regard as "the schismatics", i.e., "the competition."

Q How does that make sense?

A It doesn't.  Frankly, it's madness.  Despite their protestations, the leaders of the Church have not managed to preserve any assets "for future generations", and they have consumed far more of the Church's endowment on lawsuits than they will ever replace through sales of property.

Q So why does the litigation continue?

A Solely as a means of intimidation against those who are thinking of leaving, and as a punishment of those who left.  And it will continue until the Episcopal Church itself either depletes its own available assets, or until those in its pews and pulpits bring the leaders to their senses.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pope Benedict in Cuba: No Fatherland without Virtue

Margarita Mooney is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Faculty Fellow in the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina. She has written for Mere Comments, the blog for Touchstone Magazine, an outstanding commentary on the significance of the Pope's visit last week to Cuba. Here is how her piece begins:
Perhaps by now you have seen some of the images of two ideological opposites, Pope Benedict XVI and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who met for 30 minutes at the end of the Pope’s visit to Cuba in March. If you don’t know the history of Cuban communism or the main themes of Benedict’s writings on liberty, reason and truth, you may have missed the significance of his words to the Cuban people. For example, Benedict’s profound statement “No hay patria sin virtud (“there is no authentic fatherland without virtue”) seemed to be a play on the Cuban slogan “patria o muerte” (fatherland or death). As I’ve written before about the contradictions of Cuban communism, there is nothing virtuous in denying people liberty in order to achieve a real or supposed collective well being. As a college student with great interest in development in Latin America, I made my first trip to Cuba (my mother’s homeland) in 1994. From 1994-2006, I traveled to Cuba 7 times. (In case you are wondering, although traveling to Cuba for tourism or business is prohibited, travel for Cuban-Americans like myself to the island is not prohibited by US law). During my many trips, I became close friends with a group of young Cubans in Santiago who are very active in the Catholic Church. This March, the Pope first visited Santiago. One friend in Santiago, an active Catholic and a member of the political group Christian Liberation Movement, who I will call Rodrigo, wrote to me,
I’m exhausted but seeing the Pope has renewed my spirit. I was at the Mass and at his pilgrimage to Our Lady of Charity. His words words of hope echoed with the heart of all Cubans. It’s hard to express what is is like to have him so near; you can see goodness and purity incarnate in a human being.
Watching Pope Benedict celebrate Mass on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012, I was struck by several themes in his homily, all themes of his extensive writings, but which take on particular significance in Cuba. Those themes are: trust in God, truth, reason, religious freedom, and reconciliation. The text of the homily can be read in Spanish or English on the Vatican’s website, and if you speak Spanish, I strongly encourage you to listen to the Vatican’s video recording of the homily to hear how Benedict emphasizes words like authentic liberty and the innate desire to search for truth.
As the Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina is wont to say, be sure to follow the links and read the whole thing. There is no substitute for informed reporting that comes from personal knowledge and contacts.

Note: for additional perspective on the Pope's remarks delivered in Cuba, see this article as well, and the longer story in the Miami Herald, which is at this link.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Presiding Bishop's Statement on the Second Coming

Scene: a time in the not-too-distant future. A non-descript office, with some books, and small table with a kneeler in front of it and an emblem above it. The emblem consists of a combination earth/peace sign flanked by two doves in profile, and is illuminated by two crossed laser beams coming from below. There is another table nearby, with a transprojector on it. 

The machine beeps, and the following message begins to scroll on a large overhead screen. No one is present to read it.

[ENS (April 1). From an undisclosed location. Transcript of remarks by the Presiding Bishop.]

As Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I feel an obligation to address the rumors, which are rampant in these troubled times, that the "end times" are beginning, and that the so-called "Second Coming" is at hand.

We of course are all aware that every prophecy that has been made to date about "the end of the world" has proved to be untrue. After all, we are still here to make that statement, and so I say it again, with no little confidence: every prophecy to date has been false.

What is so special, then, about the latest one? Nothing, that I can see -- because it is not specific, and it is not the utterance of just one person. It is, as I say, nothing more than rumors and vague whispers.

Are we having earthquakes? Yes, we are -- the latest one on the Atlantic seaboard, as you know, eliminated The Episcopal Church's last main source of income, our rentals from our former headquarters at 815 Second Avenue, when the ensuing tsunami flooded all of lower Manhattan to a depth of a hundred or more feet.

Fortunately, as you know, I and my staff of two (plus my part-time secretary) had relocated to Oklahoma a good four months ago, where the rents are much cheaper. Also, as my COO informs me (she is one of the two; the other is my canon treasurer), the building was insured, and our lawyers right now are reviewing the policy to see just what is covered and what is excluded.

But there have always been earthquakes, so that is nothing new. Are we having wars? Of course -- mankind has always had wars, and these times are no exception.

Had Israel simply followed the repeated recommendations of our General Convention, dropped its blockade of Gaza, pulled out of Jerusalem and withdrawn to its 1967 borders, it is safe to say that nuclear war would never have broken out in the Middle East. But Israel did not follow those recommendations, and so now we have the unfortunate situation we have there.

But I am happy to say that our Standing Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy is meeting right now with the Standing Commission on International Peace with Justice Concerns, and they should have some new recommendations for living into the horrendous events going on there as I speak. The only problem is that, even though there are only two of them able to meet, events appear to be moving faster than those two can agree on what to recommend.

People in our Church are complaining, too, about the mandatory chip implants we introduced a while ago in order to make the tallying of Average Weekly Attendance so much easier on our stressed-out and overworked clergy. Some are calling them the "mark of the beast."

I am here to tell you that there is absolutely no basis for such talk. The three sixes that you see when you first take one out of its little box, before implanting it as per the safe and easy directions, are actually three nines, because that is the way they come from the manufacturer. Those nines are automatically advanced to zeros the first time the chip is activated, so that it can begin to record thereafter the number of times each parishioner thinks of going to church, starting with "001", and so on.

I am assured that the chips could not have been manufactured any other way and do their intended job. Also, having four digits rather than three would have been too expensive -- they tell me we can still keep track every time they roll over.

And please remember -- we were one of the last churches to adopt the chips. We did so only when the government told us it would cut off our funding if we could not provide a more reliable count of our weekly attendance, such as it is, as measured by our intentions. I'm sure I don't have to remind you of our official motto: "It's the thought that counts."

All the churches, and all those atheist and agnostic gatherings that so outnumber us, are using the chips to provide the government with the data it needs to disburse the money it appropriates. With the loss of all our rental income, it now becomes more important than ever to maintain a steady cash flow, and the chips are the only means of doing that.

As far as persecutions of Christians are concerned, I want to stress the fact that there are no persecutions of Christians who are members of the officially recognized Christian churches, such as The Episcopal Church.

The persecutions that are going on are all persecutions of Anglicans -- and as we all know by now, Anglicans are not Christians. They ceased being that when we expelled the last of them from our Church some ten years ago, for abandonment of communion.

It is not our fault that they have not chosen to tithe to our government, in exchange for the bounties it gives us -- they could do so, and I am told the persecutions would stop. But they are stubborn, and insist on "witnessing" to the one they call "the Way, the Truth and the Life."

As we who are the official, enlightened Christians know by now, every religion recognized by the government has the privilege of choosing their own messiah. That is why some have the Budda Christ, others have the Zoroastrian Christ, and so forth, and why we have our own personal messiah, which we call simply "the Force Within."

Anglicans, and the religion they profess to follow, simply do not allow enough room for the largeness and variety of the human spirit. And also, they still require the barbarism of what they call "baptism" before you can be invited to share what they arcanely refer to as their "sacraments." Though I consider myself broad-minded, I could never ask anyone to try to live into that.

Finally, I want to say something about our country's most wonderful and magnanimous President-for-Life. Unfortunately, some people are risking the full wrath of the law by referring to herhim -- in secret, of course; they wouldn't dare risk it in public -- as the "A. C." (You know what I mean, because we are forbidden to use the words those initials represent.) All the things that are said about herhim -- about herhis ambition to rule the world, about herhis having miraculously recovered from some unspecified wound, and so forth, are simply not true. Why, I had breakfast with herhim just the other day, and s/he was perfectly normal and gracious with me. In fact, I will tell you what s/he told me -- s/he said:

*  * *
[At this point, the transcript of the Presiding Bishop's talk was interrupted, presumably by the exigencies of the ongoing war, which has spread from the Middle East. ENS is working on recovering the connection, and will have a further announcement just as soon as it can be reestablished.]