Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tragic Results of a Bishop Scorned

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) is acting like a bishop scorned. Thanks to a well-known saying adapted from a play by William Congreve, we know that "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned . . .". Fury, however, is not the problem; we are instead concerned with power and its abuse. The Bishop scorned is once again abusing her power to defile the Canons and lead her Church down the wrong path.

(Ed. Note: The entity which calls itself "The Episcopal Church" [formerly known as "ECUSA"] has by now made it plain to all that it is neither Episcopal, nor a Church, but instead is an Autocratically-Led Funding Organization for Internecine Litigation, or "ALFOIL" for short. So at this site from time to time, we will use ECUSA and ALFOIL interchangeably to refer to it.)   

The vote had scarcely been held by the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth to amend its Constitution and Canons to transfer its membership temporarily to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone when the Presiding Bishop announced that she had "inhibited" the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker, Bishop of the Diocese. Let us pause for a moment to let the following realizations sink in:

1. By its vote, the Diocese was from that moment no longer subject to the canonical jurisdiction of ECUSA (ALFOIL).

2. Likewise, its diocesan was no longer subject to the canonical jurisdiction of ECUSA (ALFOIL).

3. The "inhibition" purported to prevent the Rt. Rev. Iker from performing episcopal acts in a Church of which he was no longer a canonical member, and in which there was no longer any jurisdiction in which he could perform episcopal acts on his own.

4. It took three other bishops---and not just any three, but the three most senior ones---to give their consent to this meaningless gesture of "inhibition."

5. The Presiding Bishop, who had not let the lack of an inhibition delay the proceedings to "depose" the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh for "abandonment of communion" before he left the Church, now decided that inhibition was necessary before proceeding to depose Bishop Iker after he had left the Church.

All right, now---got that? Bishop Iker and his diocese decide they want no more part in an Autocratically Led Funding Organization for Internecine Litigation, and withdraw. Although that Organization earlier decided it could "depose" Bishop Duncan for thinking about leaving before he actually withdrew---even though it could not inhibit him for doing that---it decided this time to wait until Bishop Iker had already left before it inhibited him---and that it could always depose him later. In other words, inhibition always comes before deposition when you have already left, while if you are only thinking about leaving before you actually withdraw, well, then deposition comes first, and inhibition isn't necessary. 

Is everything perfectly clear? (I don't want to lose anybody before proceeding. Read that paragraph again if you must, because it is essential that you understand how ECUSA [ALFOIL] applies its Canons if you are to have any chance of understanding what comes next.) Right, then---let's slog on, shall we?

Bishop Iker responded to the Presiding Bishop's letter of inhibition with this press release:
Katharine Jefferts Schori has no authority over me or my ministry as a Bishop in the Church of God. She never has, and she never will.

Since November 15, 2008, both the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and I as the Diocesan Bishop have been members of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. As a result, canonical declarations of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church pertaining to us are irrelevant and of no consequence.
This seems pretty clear, does it not? The press release is saying that the purported inhibition is meaningless, since Bishop Iker was, as of November 15, no longer subject to the canonical jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church (USA) (ALFOIL).

(A side note for canon lawyers: there is no provision in the ALFOIL [ECUSA] Constitution or Canons by which a sitting diocesan bishop must apply for "permission" from anyone to withdraw with his diocese and transfer to another province. Such a bishop is not resigning his jurisdiction, and so Art. II, Sec. 6 [requiring consent of the House of Bishops] does not come into play. A diocesan bishop issues his own letters dimissory [if needed at all], as he is subject to no one else's canonical supervision. The only Rule that would seem applicable in such a situation is Rule XXIV of the House of Bishop's General Rules, which allows "any Bishop of this Church who removed from the jurisdiction of this Church to the jurisdiction of a Church in the Anglican Communion" to apply for admission to the House as an "honorary member". [This is the Rule recently invoked by Bishop Wantland, who assists Bishop Iker in Ft. Worth.])

Apparently, however, the first paragraph of the press release stuck in the craw of the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. For Bishop Iker to say that he was no longer subject to her canonical jurisdiction was one thing; but for him also to say that she "never has [had], and never will [have]", authority over him---well, that was over the top. What could she do to get even?

Enter her Chancellor, who had been trying to get the Title IV Review Committee to charge Bishop Iker with "abandonment" for months, and who now was ready with this helpful advice: "If you choose to treat Bishop Iker's press release as a 'letter of renunciation' under Canon III.12.7, then we will not have to wait until the House of Bishop meets next March to depose him, and we can install a replacement Bishop right away in Ft. Worth. Then we will have a plaintiff to sue Bishop Iker and his diocese to claim the property back which they took with them when they left." 

"Perfect," she replied. "Where do I sign?" 

"Right here." And so this "Declaration of Renunciation" issued. It says in part [sic---reproduced exactly as in the original; read the link!]:

In accordance with Title III, Canon 12, Section 7 . . . I have accepted the renunciation of the Ordained Ministry of this Church, made in writing on November 24, 2008 by:

The Right Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Forth Worth
Whoops! A little Freudian slip there, isn't it, to speak of "Forth Worth"? Was the Presiding Bishop thinking, perhaps, that this little piece of paper would allow her to proceed forthwith in her plans to have ALFOIL institute litigation in Fort Worth?  Must have been; these little slips never happen by accident in an organization as autocratic as ALFOIL.

There is just one problem (but it really is not, as we shall see, that much of a problem for the likes of ALFOIL). The Canon referenced says in part as follows:

If any Bishop of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to record the declaration and request so made. . . .
So, let us see---a little checklist: (1) Do we have a "declaration in writing"?  

Yep, I guess we could say that. Check.

(2) Is it addressed to the Presiding Bishop?  

Well, not exactly---wait! I know! It's addressed to her in the third person, as befits her stature! You know, just the way the courtiers of old would address the King as "His Majesty . . ."?  So, that's a check.

(3) Does it renounce his ordained Ministry?

It most certainly does. It says, and I quote: "[Her Majesty] has no authority over me or my ministry as a Bishop in the Church of God." So by renouncing her authority over his ministry, he renounced his ministry! Don't you see?  So, check.

(4) Does it express a desire to be removed "therefrom"?

Even better! It announces that he already has removed himself "therefrom". So we will simply be confirming that fact. (Besides, the way we look at things, there is only The Episcopal Church: if you leave it, you renounce your ministry, because there is nowhere else you are qualified to minister.)  

Check, and mate. That's that, then.

OK, I have had my little fun with the latest follies at 815. (They really make it too easy.) Now it's time to get serious, because what is actually taking place is a repeat of the same tragedy that happened in San Joaquin. The good people of Ft. Worth who are not following Bishop Iker are about to be sold down the river, despite all their efforts at planning ahead for this event, and despite their professed loyalty to 815. They are pawns in the larger agenda of the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor, as the unseemly haste in proceeding with the above pronouncement about Bishop Iker demonstrates.

You know, and I know---and as a result, any court will know---that Bishop Iker did not "renounce" his orders in the form the Canon specifies. 

That being the case, the proceedings shortly to be held in Ft. Worth to "elect" his "successor" will be without any legitimacy---exactly as was the case with the "special convention" in San Joaquin that "confirmed" the appointment of the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb as "Provisional Bishop." 

The result will be that any "Provisional Bishop" now put into place in Ft. Worth will not have any authentic credentials as such, and his/her status will be open to challenge in any lawsuit he/she tries to bring.

Moreover, in their haste to get a lawsuit on file, the Presiding Bishop, her Chancellor and the good Episcopalians of Ft. Worth will neglect to go through the formalities of forming a new legal entity which could be recognized as an actual diocese at the coming General Convention in Anaheim next July. Instead, exactly as happened in San Joaquin, they will stake the whole game on their ability to convince the Texas courts that the acts of those who left were beyond their authority (ultra vires is the legal expression). Since there was no language either in ALFOIL's Constitution or Canons, or in Ft. Worth's own Constitution and Canons, which prohibited the changes that were made to the latter documents, the plaintiffs will eventually lose that argument.

By that time, millions of dollars will have been raised and spent on attorneys' fees, years will have gone by, and there will probably be a new Presiding Bishop, who can say: "Well, it wasn't my fault. I inherited this mess from my predecessor." Whatever is left of the faithful Episcopalians by then will be able finally to do what they should do right now: have their churches affiliate with the Diocese of Dallas.

And it all started here, right out in the open for all to see, with a ridiculous (and spiteful) "Declaration of Renunciation" that any objective person knows is bogus---anyone but the Presiding Bishop and her Advisory Council, that is. 

"All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." (Lord Acton, April 1887.) 

Maybe I should shorten ALFOIL---Autocratically Led Funding Organization for Internecine Litigation---simply to AF (for Animal Farm). 



  1. AF? That creates all sorts f possibilities. Okay, who is going to be Old Major, who will be Napoleon, Snowball, Squealer, Minimus, the Piglets, and the Rebel Pigs?

  2. Yes, I agree, Underground Pewster, lots of possibilities. I almost thought of casting this piece in the form of an AF skit: DBB obviously would have to be Squealer, and I wasn't quite sure whether HRH should be Napoleon, as the Great Leader, or Moses, as the one leading folk astray. But the skit would have to encompass more history to give play to the full range of characters: thus +Browning might be Old Major, while if Snowball were +Pike, then the Rebel Pigs would have to be +Spong and +Righter, etc.

    I don't know if it could be done, but it's worth a thought.

  3. This misses the point. Dioceses and parishes are NOT free to unilaterally leave TEC. Period.

    The other point is that the Presiding Bishop does not have unilateral authority in most of these canonical matters. She must, and has, obtained the consent of the Title IV Review Committee who I highly doubt are a bunch of passive rubber-stampers.

    I'm still waiting for a suggestion for an alternative to this whole mess, given that dioceses cannot leave TEC. What would you have TEC folks do? Wave goodbye?

  4. Father Sramek, thank you for coming here to post your comment. I welcome all contributions, as long as they help to further the dialogue that needs to occur before the ongoing litigation reduces everything that the Church was to a shambles.

    You assert categorically, but without any citation to the Church's Constitution and Canons, that dioceses and parishes "are NOT free to unilaterally leave TEC. Period." I have devoted a number of posts at this site to demonstrating, by full citation to many authorities, that indeed dioceses are free to leave the Church: that is of the essence of a voluntary association. If you take the trouble to work your way through all the documents and history at this post, you will see that the church came together as a voluntary association in 1789, and it can come apart exactly the same way.

    It makes things much worse when the current leadership at 815 puts out the legally unsustainable mantra that "people may leave, but dioceses may not." (Parishes are a different animal altogether. Parishes are parts of the dioceses, are usually incorporated on their own, and thus are not the same as voluntary associations. The issue of whether or not a given parish may leave a given diocese is very dependent on what the local facts are, and cannot be generalized in the manner that the relationship between the Church and its dioceses can.)

    So if you would like to have a dialogue, I would ask that you first inform yourself of the history, the facts, and the legal documents, and then I would be most happy to take up the subject with you.

    (By the way---speaking of checking the facts: the Title IV Review Committee did not refer any charges to the PB concerning Bishop Iker. As I report in the post above, her Chancellor tried for months to get them to do it, but they wouldn't. It was her Advisory Council who agreed that she could treat his press release as a renunciation of his orders, and that was done not because it was true, but because it conveniently cleared the decks to allow Ft. Worth to follow the same desultory path as San Joaquin.)

    As for what I would have the TEC folks do? (Remember, I am still one of "the TEC folks".) I would have them follow the Christian example of another one of the "TEC folks", Bishop John Howe of Florida, and negotiate a peaceable and mutually acceptable separation.