Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Coming Perfect Snafu

Though I am fortunate not to live anywhere in the paths of Hurricane Gustav or Hurricane Ike, I feel I can sympathize with those who do, because I foresee a storm of similar magnitude that is about to engulf The Episcopal Church. I feel the rise in temperature and humidity, the winds beginning to whistle, and the sudden silence of the innocent animals as they look to their masters for protection against the coming fury of the gale. I see lowering storm clouds not far off, billowing up to occupy the entire sky in one direction. One is left with a sense of frustration and hopelessness in the face of forces that have gathered at this point in space and time, as they seem unstoppable on their path to calamity and destruction.

On the one hand, the Bishops of the Church are already on the move from the four corners of the country, assembling to meet in Salt Lake City starting tomorrow. Despite an early announcement to the contrary, and despite the issuance on August 20 of a call for the meeting that made no mention of the fact, the agenda for the meeting is now clear: the powers that be have decreed that the assembled episkopoi (ironically, from the Greek word for "overseer") will be asked to consent to the immediate deposition of one of their own, without a trial.

On the other hand, at least one Bishop is staying right where he is, in Pittsburgh, and will not attend the meeting, because he deems the outcome of the vote is a foregone conclusion. He has appealed to his colleagues' sense of justice, and asks that at the very least, they do him the courtesy of a roll-call vote.

What I see unfolding in plain view is a repeat of the canonical fiasco that occurred at the March 2008 meeting of the House of Bishops in regard to the "deposition" of Bishop John-David Schofield (not to forget in the process the equally uncanonical "deposition" of Bishop William J. Cox---but he, at least, was not a sitting diocesan bishop). Having learned nothing from the storm of protest that greeted those actions, the Chief Kaitiff (as I now am impelled to dub her) is bound and determined that they shall be repeated. (Say you're happy now, once more, with feeling!)

Given the agenda she announced for the Church even before she began her duties, this is not surprising. But what is mysterious to me, at this point at least, is why Bishop Duncan should have signaled that he will abide by the results of an illegal vote:
First, whatever happens on Thursday as to my status, the Diocese will carry forward under rules long-ago established. If I am “removed,” the Standing Committee will be the Ecclesiastical Authority. Together with all the leadership presently in place, both appointed and elected, the Standing Committee will carry us through to our October 4th Annual Convention and beyond. We as a Diocese will not be intimidated or turned from our over-riding commitment, which is faithfulness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ within the mainstream of Anglicanism.
Is this an attempt to escape the legal and canonical entanglements that would follow if Bishop Duncan, like Bishop Schofield, refused to treat the deposition as having any effect? (Of course, the vote to depose Bishop Schofield came after he had already transferred to the jurisdiction of the Southern Cone.) Because if that is his wish, I do not foresee its being granted. If, as he tells his parishioners, the action by the House of Bishops will simply result in his replacement by the current Standing Committee as the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, does he not anticipate that there will immediately issue an edict from the topmost reaches of 815 Second Avenue along these lines? (Here is where the recent discovery conducted by the Calvary plaintiffs will be sought to be deployed, in order provide a hypothetical justification for the Chief Kaitiff's refusal to recognize the elected members of the Standing Committee based on their declared intentions to join with their bishop in leaving TEC.)

[UPDATE: See the comments below. I did acknowledge, with my phrase "at this point at least", the possibility that there was a superior strategy unknown to me, and my ignorance has been repaid in spades.  The parishioners of Pittsburgh, like the Burghers of Calais, are fixing a standard far above the norm of ordinary Christian forbearance, and are setting an unparalleled example for those in Ft. Worth, Quincy and elsewhere to follow.  I salute their determination and courage in the face of what is surely to come.] 

And once the Standing Committee has been officially "derecognized," the plaintiffs from Calvary Church will have been handed a trump card with which to convince the Pittsburgh Court of Common Pleas, which has been keeping an eye on the transition, to restrain them from exercising any authority at the Diocesan Convention on October 4. (Note: but see this comment by someone who is on the ground.  I do not say the same attempt would not be made if Bishop Duncan refused to step down---it almost certainly would.  The difference would be that Bishop Duncan's refusal to acknowledge the validity of the vote would not give the Calvary plaintiffs that foot in the door that its recognition, or de facto acceptance, would---and I am speaking here as a litigator first, because that is what I do.  Please understand, you folks who are on the front line in Pittsburgh, that I am not trying to second-guess your attorneys' strategy. I have the greatest respect for them, and am confident that with your determination and their skill, the combined forces of TEC will be unavailing. That is not to say that TEC will not attempt the assault.)

The roller-coaster drive to get this matter before the September meeting of the House of Bishops, come hell or high water (the latter literally), tells me that we are seeing a chess game played out here, and that (at least for the Diocese of Pittsburgh) the endgame is upon us. I see no alternative but that TEC and the Calvary plaintiffs will strive their utmost to block the vote on amending the Diocesan Constitution from taking place. Ex parte motions, temporary restraining orders, emergency appeals---the full panoply of the litigator's art will be called down upon the unfortunate participants, who simply want an opportunity to express their will. It is the coming perfect snafu (and for those of you who lived through World War II, you don't even need to follow the link).

The one thing---no, actually the two things---from which I draw some small comfort are that +Robert Duncan has the courage of a lion, and that he has the able assistance of some of the best Church attorneys in the field. But that will not stop the need to provide shelter and protection for the innocent ones who are about to get swept up in the storm.

May I make one last appeal, please, to the bishops assembling at Salt Lake? Do not, I implore you, lend your support to this folly any longer. For folly it is, and none will emerge from it unscathed.


  1. I have read the interpretation that Duncan plans to abide by the HoB vote, but I am not convinced he says that in his letter. Rather Duncan uses quotation marks around the word "removed" which suggests that he really means to say "purportedly removed". My interpretation of Duncan's statement was a way of saying to the Pittsburgh laity, don't worry, even if they claim they have removed me, the Standing Committee will still move forward.

    However, I agree with you, that it is most probable that KJS will immediately move to dismiss all Standing Committee members who won't sign some sort of loyalty pledge. I do hope that Duncan continues to act as bishop and I hope that other fair-minded TEC bishops invited Duncan into their dioceses to do bishop-specific activities to demonstrate that TEC does not uniformly accept this sham deposition.

  2. James, thank you very much for your comment here---I have always appreciated your contributions at StandFirm and T19. I too noticed the quotes around the word "removed", and like you, I hope this signaled an intent not to abide by the outcome should the bishops vote to consent to his deposition. And perhaps we may derive another subtle signal in Bishop Duncan's use of the subjunctive in his letter to his colleagues:

    "If, in the House’s judgment, you choose to proceed despite my protest and that of so many others, I do ask that you who would deprive me of my see and of my priestly ministry express the courage of your convictions in a roll call vote. To do less will be but one more exercise in expedience and moral failure."

    The Standing Committee will be able to assume his authority, of course, only in the event he chooses to recognize, whether de facto or sub silentio, that after the vote he is no longer a diocesan of TEC. So I would say we may take our cue from them. Here's hoping that he will remain at the helm no matter what the vote, and force TEC to put its uncanonical maneuvers to the test of judicial scrutiny.

    Finally, I would like to acknowledge the wisdom of your suggestion that each TEC bishop who does not concur with the validity of the deposition invite Bishop Duncan to a function in their diocese. Only in such a way can the true poverty of 815's roller-coaster strategy be exposed.

    That being said, I would also hope that those bishops who would be willing to invite +Duncan into their dioceses after the vote could also see their way, as I suggested in the post, to standing up and leaving the meeting immediately after the ruling that the resolution to depose must be put to a vote. And if that meaningful gesture deprives the HoB of a quorum (the bishops so minded should agree on one of their own who will remain to demand a call of the House, to ensure that the lack of a quorum is established), so much the better.

  3. I too hope that Bp. Duncan will stay to defend his flock, but I sense that he may believe that the righteous course of action will be one of surrender.

    It reminds me of someone else who was wrongfully accused and condemned by a kangaroo court. Two bible verses will summarize what I sense, and what I fear:

    "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." (Is. 53:7 )

    "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered." (Matt. 26:31)

    In the unfathomable wisdom of God, however, our Lord's course of action turned out to be the right one. Perhaps we are going to see the Lord do amazing things in the next few days.

  4. What can I say to such a magnificent comment, Topper, other than perhaps (please do not regard this as trite) that you have out-topped yourself?

    I note that over at StandFirm, episcopaul corrects me to say that the Convention will be led by an elected presbyter whether or not Bishop Duncan and/or the Standing Committee have been prevented from participating.

    All that I can say, in the face of such manifest fortitude in the face of oppression, is: Godspeed, ye lions of Pittsburgh! Please God, may your courage serve as a lamp to others in the coming adversities!

  5. Curmudgeon -
    I did not get the sense from +Duncan's letter that he was going to go along with it. But I have the feeling that his seeming acquiescence (if they have a vote to "depose" him) is to prevent any interference with the Convention.

    The Presiding Commissar of the Politburo was able to do what she did in San Joaquin mainly because those members of the Standing Committee were pretending to be an Episcopal Diocese. The fact that Remain Episcopal did not acknowledge them as a "duly elected Standing Committee" gave Katie Bear the opportunity to do what she did. However, had her actions been challenged in a court of Law, I wonder if the court would not have ruled in the SC's favor, since Schori's actions were clearly beyond what is allowed by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, USA.

    I believe the Pittsburgh situation is different. Here we would have a case of a diocese which is still within ECUSA, but "without" a bishop. In that case, the Standing Committee is the ecclesiastical authority, no matter what the Quisling Calvary plaintiffs may claim.

    Of course, with such a lawless and ruthless person like Schori, one never knows just how audacious she is prepared to be. I would hope that the leadership in the Dio. of Pittsburgh is ready to defend their right to convene and to carry out any business which that convention would wish to pursue. It might indeed take a court case to decide that.

    From where I sit, this is indeed a SNAFU and the situation is one which in computer terms (my trade) is FUBAR.

    I rejoice that I left all this behind and moved to the Anglcan Catholic Church. Even though it does mean a 45 minute trip each way. The peace of mind is worth the extra gas.