Monday, September 15, 2008

Why Do the Canons Matter? (Part II of Two Parts)

An Answer to the Rev. Canon Mark Harris and the Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton
(Part II of Two Parts)

In Part I of this two-part post, I showed why the proposed application to the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan of Canon IV.9, entitled "Of the Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop", made no logical sense. The post was a response to blog postings and comments by the Rev. Canon Mark Harris and the Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton, which essentially asked: "What is the problem?"

In order to provide them with a comprehensive response, I will in this Second Part approach the question from their point of view, namely, that Bishop Duncan is already guilty, without the need of any trial to establish the fact, of "abandoning the Communion of this Church." I develop the topic as an exercise in the proper exegesis of the text of Canon IV.9. So the essay resumes from where we left off in the previous post, and remember---I am addressing Canon Harris and Ms. Kaeton directly:

Now let us approach this exercise in exegesis from the opposite point of view, that is, let us assume that your conclusion that Bishop Duncan has already violated the provisions of Canon IV.9 is somehow logical and correct. What would the premisses and logical consequences of such a view be?

1. Doubtless it would entail the proposition that "the Communion of this Church" is something different from the "Communion" that this Church shares as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion.

2. But if that "Communion" is different, then just what does it consist of, and how does it foster the growth of The Episcopal Church within the wider Anglican Communion? And if the drafters of the Canon had wanted to deal with a bishop abandoning just The Episcopal Church, why did they need the word "Communion"? Why not just draft a Canon that provided for the deposition of a Bishop who left The Episcopal Church, pure and simple?

3. And by the same token, if the "Communion" as referred to in the Canon is something that members of The Episcopal Church share with each other, and so is something that a bishop such as Bishop Duncan could be seen "to abandon" by joining another province of the Anglican Communion, then just what is "the Communion" of which The Episcopal Church professes to be a part in declaring, in its Constitution, that it "is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion"?

4. Finally, the current version of Canon IV.9 retains the 1853 language that it is the "formal admission into any religious body that is not in communion with [The Episcopal Church]" which constitutes "abandonment." But by the same logic in reverse, then joining a religious body which is in communion with The Episcopal Church does not constitute abandonment, otherwise the prohibition would make no sense whatever. Bishop Duncan has not yet affiliated himself with any religious body outside of The Episcopal Church. So please explain how, in your rational view, declaring himself ready to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone, or supporting the measure before the diocesan convention to do so, constitutes an "open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship" of The Episcopal Church.

5. Because (remember, you are being rational here) if joining a Church that is in communion with The Episcopal Church cannot be charged as an abandonment of "the Communion" of this Church, then by the same token, the "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of this Church must be the same as the "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of the other Anglican Communion Church.
(There is no escape from the ironclad logic of this conclusion, as we shall see in the subsequent paragraphs. )

6. Otherwise, if it were not the same, then the inescapable conclusion would be that The Episcopal Church does not share a "Doctrine" in common with the other churches of the Anglican Communion---i.e., it professes a "Doctrine" that is different from the rest of the Communion (such as, perhaps, that any person in a same-sex relationship is not thereby disqualified from the clergy?). But then it should not claim in the Preamble to its Constitution that it is "a constituent member" of the Anglican Communion.

7. Or alternatively, the conclusion could be that The Episcopal Church does not share a "Discipline" in common with the other churches of the Anglican Communion. But if that were true, then it would mean that by the very act of joining another church within the Anglican Communion, a Bishop would abandon the "discipline" of The Episcopal Church. And since the Canon makes it an abandonment to join a church not "in Communion with" TEC, it cannot logically be an abandonment of the Church's discipline to join a church that is in communion with TEC.

("Discipline", in the case of a Bishop, means subjecting himself to the governance of an ecclesial body, and the Synod of the Southern Cone is just as capable of fulfilling that function as is General Convention. If renouncing "the Discipline of this Church" means no longer subjecting oneself to the authority of General Convention, then every bishop or priest who transfers to another Anglican province is guilty of an "open renunciation of the . . . Discipline . . . of this Church", and it would be impossible for the orders of this Church to be recognized in any other province of the Anglican Communion. This logic may be difficult at first encounter, but it permits no other conclusion. So please be sure that you have tracked it before proceeding further---otherwise you will fall prey to non-sequiturs.)

8. The only other logical possibility is for the charge of "abandonment" to derive its substance from the fact that the "worship" of The Episcopal Church is different from the "worship" of the rest of the churches with which it is in Communion. But such a conclusion would read The Episcopal Church right out of the Anglican Communion, and not even the Property Task Force has taken things that far. At any rate, there have been no complaints thus far that the actions of Bishop Duncan constitute an "abandonment" of "the Worship" of The Episcopal Church.

With those eight logical steps, we have exhausted the rational possibilities to be inferred from your expressed conclusion that Bishop Duncan has already violated Canon IV.9 sufficiently to merit deposition in September. All of those possibilities, as just demonstrated, lead to logical contradictions. Thus, based on just a simple exegesis of the Canon's historical language, and not on the further corroborations to be drawn from its legislative history (see, in addition to this post, my posts here and here for those), the conclusion inescapably follows that Bishop Duncan has not yet violated any of the provisions of the Canon that would merit a sentence of deposition.

Can you begin to understand why we conservatives, who live (and perish) by the canons our Church has in General Convention adopted, are so distressed by the abuse of them which the prosecution of Bishop Duncan entails? If so, I congratulate you on the progress of your understanding----but believe me, you have not seen anything yet.

The reason for that last statement is simple: the plain language of Canon IV.9 does not allow the deposition of a Bishop for whom consent to his "inhibition" has not been obtained from the three senior bishops of the Church. The latest announcement to the House of Bishops expressly acknowledges as much, but claims the right to proceed with a resolution for deposition anyway. This claim is logically incoherent, and thus is bogus. If you are rational, and can understand the plain language of Canon IV.9, there is simply no logical avenue which you can take to arrive at the conclusion that a Bishop who has not been inhibited can be deposed under Canon IV.9 without a trial.

To support this last statement, I now shall ask you to look very closely at the graphical presentation of the language of Canon IV.9 visible at this link. The paragraphs and sentences have been arranged according to their relative hierarchy within the Canon, so that anyone may see clearly what provision pertains to what section. Notice, first, that section 2 is all about an inhibited Bishop: it begins with the language "Unless the inhibited Bishop . . .". There is no language in section 2 that applies to a Bishop who has not been first inhibited.

Take a minute, please, to absorb the impact of that last statement: There is no language in section 2 that applies to a Bishop who has not been first inhibited.

But the Presiding Bishop now wants to bring to the floor at Salt Lake City a resolution to depose Bishop Duncan for alleged violations (which, as just demonstrated above, are not in fact actual violations) of Canon IV.9, regardless of the fact that she did not obtain the requisite consents to "inhibit" him.

So not only are the views you have expressed on your blogs, as quoted earlier, contrary to the plain language of the Canon, in that there has been no "abandonment of the Communion of this Church" by virtue of Bishop Duncan's expressing his support for affiliating with the Province of the Southern Cone, but the very act of bringing a Resolution to depose him before this meeting of the House of Bishops at Salt Lake City next week will be itself a violation of the language of the Canon that is invoked.

I cannot make it any plainer than that. If you are in any doubt about that conclusion, please go back to the top, and start over: it all proceeds by traditional logic, and there are no trick steps or logical fallacies in the argument. If you somehow think you have a logical basis on which the House of Bishops could conceivably proceed rightfully with the deposition of Bishop Duncan next week, I beg you to let me know what it is. The conservative blogworld awaits your rational response.

Now, to the Rev. Canon Kaeton's question: "Why do I care?" Well, Canon Kaeton, if you have tracked the argument thus far, you should be able to answer your own question. Some time ago, you yourself took an oath to observe "the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of The Episcopal Church. I assume you will agree that it was not a meaningless oath, and I shall further assume that you strive in your daily life as a minister of the Church to be faithful to it. My return question to you is: what has Bishop Duncan done, in your humble opinion, that is any less faithful to that vow than what you have done in the course of your ministry?

If you contend that he has advocated the transfer of his diocese to a different province in the Anglican Communion, then I shall refer you to points 1 through 8 above, the logic of which is inescapable. A transfer to a different Church in the Anglican Communion is not, and cannot be, an "abandonment of the Communion of The Episcopal Church", so long as The Episcopal Church is a "constituent member" of the Anglican Communion.

To drive home the point about why the Diocese of Pittsburgh has the free right to transfer to a different province, I would refer you to Article VII of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, which says in its entirety:
Dioceses may be united into Provinces in such manner, under such conditions, and with such powers, as shall be provided by Canon of the General Convention; Provided, however, that no Diocese shall be included in a Province without its own consent.
"Provided, however, that no Diocese shall be included in a Province without its own consent." The language means that a Diocese belongs to a Province only for so long as the Diocese gives its consent, because under long-standing legal doctrine, no legislative body (e.g., the convention of a diocese) can bind the decisions of future sessions of that body. Each new diocesan convention has the power to revoke the consent previously given to belong to a given province, and to join a different province. Under this provision, the Canons have been amended countless times to define which dioceses are part of which provinces, and in each case, the consent of the diocese in question was obtained before the canonical change became effective. (Interestingly, there is no language in the Constitution which requires a Diocese to belong to a province within The Episcopal Church, but only that it be part of "a Province". Thus the Constitution itself could literally be read as not forbidding what the Diocese of Pittsburgh proposes to do. Such a reading also comports with the views expressed in the paper by Mark McCall published by the Anglican Communion Institute.)

If you nevertheless, in spite of all the logic adduced here, contend that such an advocacy on Bishop Duncan's part justifies his deposition from the orders of this Church, then you are serving as a textbook example of how The Episcopal Church has isolated itself from the rest of the Anglican Communion: you are not willing to allow TEC bishops to transfer with their dioceses to another province without first deposing them, and you refuse to recognize the orders which other provinces in the Communion recognize.

I am aware that both of you believe that at bottom, it is a matter of property; that a bishop and even a diocese might be free to leave TEC, as long as they do not try to "steal the candlesticks." Doubtless you are relying on the provisions of the Dennis Canon to be self-enforcing, but I would remind you that the language of the Dennis Canon has no application to property and assets held by a diocese (as opposed to held by an individual parish). And the Dennis Canon is not exactly a model of how to establish a valid trust---but let us leave that for another post.

In conclusion, the short answer to the Rev. Canon Kaeton's question "Why do I care?" is this (I am sorry for your sake if you think I have wasted your time in getting there):

You do not "have" to care---no one is forcing you. But if you do not, you are thereby cutting yourself off from the rest of the Anglican Communion. And if you do not care about the Anglican Communion, then I say to you: "Godspeed---you have chosen your own 'Communion,' and you are welcome to make of it what you can, in Christ's name."


  1. I work like your work up on one idea. I have in my past as a delegate to a convention made motions that passed, to suspend normal order in to conduct business necessary for the purposes of the corporation. I also was a minor in drafting a motion to suspend normal order, so that a not for profit corporation could merge with another similar group. These motions were not on subjects that were all the contentious, granted, but they were necessary.

    I think this is the logic the PB is making to support the idea that she can go ahead with actions this week. I do not think this logic applies, but I think it should be addressed. When working on the motions mentioned in the first paragraph, I was sure that the bylaws in play could not be sticky abided by without seriously negatively impacting the purposes for which the bodies were incorporated.

    In the case of Bishop Duncan, the PB should not be allowed this logic. Granting, for purposes of this discussion only, that she has a need for the good of the organization to remove Bishop Duncan, she still has the avenue of a church trial. I have long lost the research done at the time, but my memory is that motions to suspend normal order as only in order when there is not other way.

  2. traditionalanglican, I regret to say that the Rules of the House of Bishops (Rule XIX) allow a two-thirds majority of the House to authorize the introduction of any new Resolution that was not circulated at least 30 days in advance of the meeting. Note that this number (2/3 of the House voting) is the same number which, under Rule XV, is required to overrule the rulings of the Chair on points of order (such as voting to depose Bishop Duncan when he has not been previously inhibited). The Chief Kaitiff has made her parliamentary ruling on this point known in advance, and so she must be confident that it will be upheld. And if she has the 2/3 majority required to keep the ruling from being overturned, then she also has, alas, the 2/3 majority required to introduce, without the required notice, the Resolution to depose Bishop Duncan.

    The spineless members of the HoB who play along with this charade will be deserving, in my view, of our strongest condemnation. They certainly will not show themselves worthy of their title as "bishop".

  3. I think you got your 2/3's mixed up: Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori needs only 1/3 to sustain her ruling (2/3 are needed to overrule her).

  4. John Tang Boyland, I thank you for pointing that out. What I should have said is that if the Presiding Bishop felt that she had the 2/3 majority to alter the agenda with permission, then she obviously did not have to worry about having 2/3 of the Bishops overrule her parliamentary rulings on the objections to proceeding.

    Or, as you have it, if she has 2/3 who will let her change the agenda so as to introduce the subject, that number includes the 1/3 + 1 she needs to sustain her rulings.

    Now the only question will be whether she tries to brazen her agenda change past the meeting without objection, or whether there will be enough who are disturbed by the entire procedure to block it. Because if more than 1/3 oppose the agenda change, she will not be able to ask the House for its consent to depose---UNLESS she rules as Chair that the item was included in a previous notice of meeting, in which case she will need only 1/3 + 1, as you point out, to sustain her ruling.

    Aren't Episcopal politics fascinating? It puts the Republicans and Democrats to shame.

  5. "Aren't Episcopal politics fascinating? It puts the Republicans and Democrats to shame."

    Curmudgeon -
    I am sure there is plenty of sarcasm intended in the above comment. I do not find Episcopal politics fascinating. I find them to be completely disgusting in light of the type of organization TEC purports to be: a part of the Body of Jesus Christ! How is this sort of lawless behavior honoring the Name of Christ? It is not! It merely is another splinter on the Cross that he bore for us.

    I am sometimes ashamed when I think that I remained in such a despicable institution for so long.