At dual conventions held today in Chicago and Peoria, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and the remnant Episcopalians in Quincy (who called themselves a "diocese" for purposes of the ongoing litigation over whether the actual Diocese of Quincy could leave the Episcopal Church [USA]) have voted to combine into a single Diocese of Chicago. The actual merger will not take place until General Convention meets, probably two years from now, to approve it pursuant to Article V of the Constitution.
(Curmudgeon's Note: See what a wonderful "hierarchy" ECUSA claims to be! It is supposedly "governed and ruled" by a body which meets together once every three years for just 8 days, and then dissolves -- never to assemble again. Eight days out of 365 x 3 = 1,095 days (1,096 if one year is a leap year), or less than 1% of the time (to be exact, 0.73%). It's rather like Scotland saying it was "governed" by the village of Brigadoon.)
[UPDATE 06/08/2013: Since my writing the above, The Living Church has put up an article which references a "background document" given to the deputies at the convention of the Diocese of Chicago. And according to that document, the merger will not have to wait for General Convention's next session in 2015. Instead, it asserts that a majority of the diocesan bishops and standing committees can give their assent to the union, and that is all the approval that will be necessary.
Needless to say, I was surprised by this claim that Canon I.10.6 (which allows for such an approval) would apply to this situation. That Canon speaks of a reunion of dioceses that were previously a single entity, but which had split apart, and now wanted to come together again. Article V of the Constitution (linked above) covers the case of the joining of two existing dioceses to make a single one -- and a provision of the Constitution trumps a provision in the Canons.
Upon further reflection, however, I realized that applying the Canon rather than the Constitution is just par for ECUSA's course. For the ongoing Quincy litigation, ECUSA must maintain the fiction that its current Potemkin diocese is the same entity whose disgruntled and unenlightened deputies voted overwhelmingly but illegally to amend their governing documents so as no longer to be a part of ECUSA. In 815's view -- as advanced at the recent trial -- those votes were invalid, and hence cannot be recognized as separating the diocese from the Church. (Never mind that ECUSA admitted at the trial that there is no language in its Constitution or Canons which renders the votes invalid; it's just that ECUSA has "determined" ex post facto that they were -- don't you see?)
Therefore (in 815's view), the "Diocese of Quincy" never left; it just had to be "reorganized" from the ground up, with a new bishop and a new standing committee. And so when that "continuing" entity votes to recombine with the Diocese of Chicago, it really is a "reunion" of two dioceses that were formerly one.
Except that when they were both "one" diocese -- to accept their premise for the sake of the argument -- that single diocese also consisted of what is now the Diocese of Springfield. In other words, there was never a time when just the now Diocese of Chicago and the "Diocese of Quincy" were one and the same diocese -- even under their convenient manipulation of the facts for litigation purposes.
But awareness of that defect in their little scheme to rejoin will never hinder or delay the process for a single second. Nevertheless, this is such an important objection to make to yet another of 815's decisions to let the needs of current litigation trump everything else that defines the Church -- whether it be its Constitution, or Canons, or the Book of Common Prayer, or Holy Eucharist -- that it is worthy of a separate post. So stay tuned.]
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The fate of the Potemkin "Diocese of Quincy" foreshadows what will probably happen to all of the other Potemkin villages currently being propped up by the coffers of ECUSA, except for Pittsburgh and possibly Fort Worth (depending on how the Texas Supreme Court rules -- any day now, by the way). The remnant Episcopalians in San Joaquin, Quincy and South Carolina are currently each governed by a part-time, provisional bishop, previously retired ("resigned"), who spends only a fraction of his time visiting the parishes and handling administrative matters.
The oldest such group is in the geographical area of the former Diocese of San Joaquin, spread over fourteen California counties in the southern Central Valley. The Presiding Bishop called its initial convention in April 2008 so that it could immediately file a lawsuit against Bishop Schofield (but not naming his Anglican Diocese -- remember, ECUSA cannot recognize the right of a diocese to withdraw, without forfeiting its claims to the withdrawing diocese's property and bank accounts).
After five years, the group's lawsuit against Bishop Schofield has yet to go to trial, while it has accepted loans and subsidies from ECUSA amounting to about $1.5 million thus far. Meanwhile, its ASA dropped since 2001 by nearly 80%, and has remained flat at just 943 for 2010 and 2011. Worse still, its number of baptized members is declining steadily also, so that there are fewer and fewer replacements to fill the pews.
With an annual budget in which legal expenses must dwarf all other items, San Joaquin has no resources from which to repay its loans from the national Church, and if it does not prevail in its lawsuit, 815 will have to write off what it is owed. Its average pledge was just under $200 per month in 2011, and it had only 628 pledging units.
The situation in Quincy after that Diocese withdrew in 2008 is even more tenuous, because Quincy was never a large diocese from the outset. Its ASA dropped from 1,275 in 2001 to just 340 in 2011; from 2010 to 2011 alone, there was a 6.3% decline. It has not received anywhere near as much in subsidies as has San Joaquin, but it has never been self-sustaining since 2008. Its current average pledge is even lower than San Joaquin's, and it has just 251 pledging units.
The press release from the Diocese of Chicago says nothing about assuming Quincy's liabilities, but in any event it would not do so until after General Convention approves the merger in the summer of 2015. One wonders also what will happen to the remnant group's role in the pending lawsuit, assuming it is still in the Illinois courts at that time. (Post-trial briefing was just completed this week, and a decision could be expected by August, but there will almost certainly be an appeal by whichever side loses. Any such appeal could easily drag on past 2015.)
If the lawsuit is still pending in the summer of 2015, the successor Diocese of Chicago will have to be substituted in place of the remnant group for the suit to continue. And that might introduce some entirely new and novel legal questions into the lawsuit. For instance, what is the legal right under Illinois law of an unincorporated association's members to assign their claims to property and assets when that unincorporated association dissolves and merges into a much larger association? The status of those members as belonging to a unique group organized for purposes of maintaining a lawsuit will have vanished, and the Diocese of Chicago will have no such claims prior to the merger. To whom will those claims be assigned, and can they even be assigned?
This is what happens when an organization that calls itself a church refuses to adhere to the Christian path, and instead seeks to gain temporary advantages through litigation while failing abysmally to carry out its mission. Indeed, an outsider might even conclude, from the fact that by 2015 ECUSA may have spent as much as its entire current yearly budget just on litigation, that ECUSA's mission is litigation -- nothing more, nothing less.
Now that briefing has concluded, I will be able to report more details about the Quincy trial in forthcoming posts.