Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Bandit Bishop?

George Conger reports that the Presiding Bishop has responded to the letter written by the Diocese of Central Florida objecting to the irregularities in the "depositions" of Bishops William J. Cox and John-David Schofield last March at Camp Allen. (I have written extensively about those irregularities here, here and here.) He includes quotations from her letter in response:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has rebuffed pleas for compromise from conservatives and rejected calls for the American Church’s House of Bishops to revisit the cases of deposed Bishops John-David Schofield and William Cox, saying the matter is closed.

“I have no ability to reverse or set aside any decision of the House of Bishops, nor does the House once the meeting [of bishops] is adjourned,” Bishop Schori wrote to the Diocese of Central Florida on June 2. However, should the two bishops “wish to re-enter” the Episcopal Church and “seek reinstatement, that is eminently possible,” she said.

She went on to explain that the depositions were of no practical consequence to anyone but The Episcopal Church (as though this justified her massive failures to follow the canons):
In her letter to Central Florida, Bishop Schori stated the deposition of the two bishops did not affect their ontological status as priests, but was merely a housekeeping task to straighten out the church’s books.

The two bishops had made it “abundantly clear” they no longer regarded themselves as members of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Schori explained. “It is a necessary duty of the leadership of this Church to clarify the status of clergy who no longer regard themselves as members. That is what deposition means in cases like these.”

“It is not, and is not meant to be, punitive, but rather clarifying in regard to the person’s ability to function as a member of the clergy in this Church. We hold a theology of ordination that says it is indelible. Deposition does not affect that theological understanding,” Bishop Schori explained.

She noted that objections to the deposition proceedings could not now be raised. Central Florida and the other dioceses lacked “standing” to object as protests could only be brought by bishops “who must object, during the meeting, if they wish clarification. No one did so.”
It is interesting that the Presiding Bishop should raise the issue of "standing." It was, of course, she who, without any "standing" to do so under the Constitution and Canons, intervened in the Diocese of San Joaquin to call a "Special Convention" on just seventeen days' notice, with no quorum, to confirm her uncanonical choice as "Provisional Bishop"---a man whom she had selected because he was willing to act as a puppet plaintiff in the lawsuit she wanted to be immediately brought. Her letter to Central Florida may show that she knows how to raise the topic, but her actions in San Joaquin demonstrate beyond cavil that she has no understanding of or respect for what it means.

(Note: I realize that Archbishop Rowan Williams is holding up as a model for inter-Church relations today the Desert Fathers, who were extremely critical of themselves and never judgmental of others. I am judging the Presiding Bishop harshly here not as a bishop per se, but as one who has the ultimate say, for better or worse, on Church canon law and what it means. Her obstinate persistence in refusing to undo her illegal actions---when she alone has the power to correct them---brands her as a fitting object for the scorn of those who have given their lives to the practice of law. Nothing arouses this curmudgeon's ire more than a bishop who defies---and thereby defiles---the canons.)
I have news for the good Presiding Bishop. There is no need for anyone to "object" to her uncanonical actions in purporting to depose Bishops Cox and Schofield. Those actions were, and remain, a nullity. (Oh, yes, they allowed The Episcopal Church the dubious achievement of removing its oldest living bishop from its books, but Bishop Cox had already indicated that he could no longer be a part of the Church anyway.) As a nullity, no one is required to treat the depositions as having happened. Instead, the proper way to regard the votes to depose is as having failed---they failed to pass by the required number of votes. So Bishop Cox and Bishop Schofield are fully entitled to regard themselves as still bishops of The Episcopal Church, if they wish to do so. (They certainly do not have to accept her disingenuous offer to request permission to rejoin the Church.) What the Presiding Bishop thinks in the matter simply does not count, unless and until she decides she will follow her own canons.

Now we have another test of the Presiding Bishop coming: the "Showdown in Salt Lake City" this September. Because she is who she is, as anyone with any doubt can tell from the tone of her response to the Diocese of Central Florida, I do not hesitate for one minute to predict that she will press forward at that meeting of the House of Bishops with her uncanonical move to depose Bishop Robert Duncan. When she does, however, she will not encounter the meek and silent crowd that was at Camp Allen in March. For one thing, Bishop Duncan will be there with his attorneys. And for another, the bishops of all the dioceses that have written to join the protests over the proceedings against Bishops Cox and Schofield should be there as well.

"So what?" you say. "They can object, but she will overrule their objections. And when they appeal the ruling of the Chair, Rule XV of the House's General rules says:
All questions of order shall be decided by the Chair without debate, but appeal may be taken from such decision. The decision of the Chair shall stand unless overruled by a two-thirds vote of those present and voting.
"Bishop Duncan and his supporters will never muster a two-thirds majority to overrule her," you continue. "That's why she is so confident she can continue unhindered in her course."

When the leader of a political organization proposes to trample underfoot the rights of the minority, the proper response for the minority is to get up and walk out. The proceedings at the September House of Bishops Meeting to depose Bishop Duncan will be in the highest degree political. Thus when the resolution to depose is brought up, and all objections to it are overruled, I hope that those bishops who are now in such close and collegial prayer groups with each other at Lambeth will have the backbone to get up and walk out of the meeting. It is the only signal that can be sent to tyranny. 

And when the Diocese of Pittsburgh votes to leave The Episcopal Church, followed closely by the Dioceses of Ft. Worth and Quincy, no one will be able to say they left of their own accord. They will have been booted out by that ultimate of oxymorons: a bandit bishop.

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