Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Case of the Missing Letters

The excuse machine is in high gear. Episcopalians throughout the Church are trying to cover the embarrassing mess of Inter-Communion relations made by the Primate of All ECUSA on the eve of her meeting with her fellow Primates in Egypt. It seems that she has claimed the power to deprive a Bishop in good standing in the Church of England of the "gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Holy Word and Sacraments conferred on him in Ordinations." (For more background, see this earlier post.)

Father Mark Harris has put up a new post to demonstrate how his understanding of the matter was correct all along: "The issue is as I have stated before: 'Orders in the Church themselves are indelible, but licensing is required to exercise them.'" Except that is not exactly what he said in his earlier post on the matter:

Bishop Scriven has been playing all sides: He has been part of the ministry of TEC, now part of the ministry of the Province of the Southern Cone and soon to be part of the ministry of the Church of England. The one thing he has clearly done is continue to serve in the Pittsburgh diocese related to the Southern Cone. My sense is he has been a hired assistant, under contract with the then Diocese of Pittsburgh and really didn't see much reason to think in a larger box. But there it is: He went with the Southern Cone and he is leaving for the CofE. He is not part of TEC and we hardly missed him.
"Voluntary renunciation" is about giving up standing as a bishop in TEC. The implications are clear: by not being a bishop in TEC nothing done or said by the person can be claimed as a ministry of TEC. Nada, nothing. There will be the usual wringing of hands that these two really did not renounce the ministry, that they are still bishops, that elsewhere they are recognized, etc. Right. But they did reject the exercise of episcopal office in The Episcopal Church and made it clear that they were no longer part of this church. It would appear that they voluntarily rejected, and renounced, their role as bishop in TEC. And that is what this is about. They have left, and did so having rejected TEC, and now TEC is agreeing with them. Having left they are no longer bishops of this Church.
Apparently this somewhat ungracious dismissal of the Bishop evidenced a little too much ingratitude for the dissenters in Pittsburgh, to whom Bishop Scriven continued to give his unstinting pastoral care even after the Diocese had left the Episcopal Church to affiliate with the Southern Cone. They issued the following statement on their Website:

An article that appeared on Episcopal Life Online on January 23, 2009 reported that Bishop Henry Scriven, the former Assistant Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, had renounced his orders and that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, had accepted that renunciation. Although the article may suggest otherwise, the Standing Committee understands that this action was not in any sense a disciplinary action or an action taken because of Bishop Scriven’s support for the attempt to realign the Diocese with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

Before he relocated to England, Bishop Scriven had submitted his resignation as a member of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, inasmuch as he was planning to return to England and serve as Assistant to the Bishop of Oxford. In order to permit that, the Canons required that he be released from his orders in the Episcopal Church for reasons not affecting his moral character, which is what occurred. This is a routine way of permitting Bishop Scriven to continue his ministry. Orders in the Church themselves are indelible, but licensing is required to exercise them.

The Standing Committee gives thanks for the gracious way in which Bishop Scriven exercised his ministry in the Episcopal Church while he served here as Assistant Bishop and we hope he and his wife Catherine will visit us in the future.
And to give Father Harris credit, he no longer sounds ungracious, and recognizes that Bishop Scriven was a good man in a difficult situation not of his making. But all the apologizing---sorry, I cannot call it that; it is more akin to backtracking---serves only to bring out more detail in this sorry affair. And the more detail that emerges, the worse that the Primate of all ECUSA appears---to all, that is, except to her loyal supporters and followers, for whom she is incapable of ever violating a single canon.

The Standing Committee reports in its Statement just quoted, for example, that Bishop Scriven "had submitted his resignation as a member of the House of Bishops" to Bishop Jefferts Schori. That is a different step, a very different step, from renouncing one's ordination vows. Now I wish that Bishop Scriven, or someone else with access to it, would publish the actual letter that he wrote on October 16 to Bishop Jefferts Schori, because from another source, we learn that she first acknowledged that he was "resigning" his membership in the House, and not "renouncing his vows in the Church":
But on October 16, 2008, Bishop Scriven informed the Presiding Bishop, by letter copied to the Bishop of Oxford, that he was returning to the Church of England where he would become an Honorary Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Oxford and be subject to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Oxford. The Presiding Bishop clearly acknowledged this fact in her letter of response, dated November 12, 2008: “I understand your request to resign as a member of the House of Bishops to mean that you will become a bishop of the Church of England, serving as assistant to the Bishop of Oxford.”
So Bishop Scriven asked to resign from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, to which he had belonged since becoming the Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in September 2002. And the Primate of all ECUSA acknowledged his request in a letter that has not yet been published by her office, dated November 12, 2008. 

And now, another source adds more tantalizing details: Father George Conger was able to interview Bishop Scriven and to ask him about the international incident. According to what he says, in her response to him of November 12, Bishop Jefferts Schori not only acknowledged his request to resign from the House of Bishops, but indicated at that time her intentions to use the renunciation canon in response to that request. 
In her response of Nov 12, Bishop Schori acknowledged that Bishop Scriven was now a Bishop of the Church of England, and said she would “release you from your orders in this Church” for reasons “not effecting moral character.” Bishop Schori added that she believed “that subtlety was lost on some of our Communion partners” over her understanding of canon law, as her action would not undo the “indelible” mark of ordination, but was a housekeeping action that would end his licence to serve in the US Church.

Not only is Bishop Jefferts Schori already planning on November 12 to treat Bishop Scriven's innocuous request as a renunciation of his vows, but she acknowledges that the "subtlety" (??!) of what she proposes to do might be "lost on some of our Communion partners"! How about that for premeditated mayhem on the Anglican Communion? The only question now is: why did it take her two more months, until January 15, 2009, to make it official? And where are these missing letters? Why cannot the correspondence be published? 

Apparently they will not be published because from the standpoint of the Presiding Bishop, they would indelibly put the lie to what she certified to the world on January 15. For if produced, the exchange of letters would show:

1. Having accepted (as we know) a license from the Archbishop of the Province of the Southern Cone on October 4, 2008, and the diocese in which he was serving as Assistant Bishop having on the same day transferred its affiliation from ECUSA to the Province of the Southern Cone, Bishop Scriven was no longer eligible to hold a seat and a vote in the ECUSA House of Bishops; so

2. Like the very English gentleman that he is, he wrote to the Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops, with a copy to his own Bishop in Oxford (for whom he would be working starting January 1), described his plans, and requested most politely that she accept his resignation from the ECUSA House of Bishops; and

3. Realizing the legal implications for the looming battle in Pittsburgh, the Presiding Bishop acknowledges that he is requesting to resign, but responds that she will of necessity be forced to release him from his orders---but "not to worry" if the "subtlety" of her move is "lost on some of our Communion partners"; and then

4. It takes her sixty more days to secure the consent of her "Council of Advice" to this nefarious plan---but in the end, they give in to perceived legal necessities, and allow her to inflame still further the relations between ECUSA and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

What her Chancellor and Council apparently did not advise her---or perhaps they did, but she was impervious to the advice---is how she herself would come off to the rest of the Anglican world in the affair.

Please compare these two statements by the Primate of all ECUSA, and please give me a rational explanation for them being made by one and the same person:

November 16, 2008:
“I understand your request to resign as a member of the House of Bishops to mean that you will become a bishop of the Church of England, serving as assistant to the Bishop of Oxford.”
January 15, 2009:
". . . I have accepted the renunciation of the Ordained Ministry of this Church, made in writing to me on October 16, 2008 by The Right Rev. Henry Scriven, Assistant Bishop of Pittsburgh . . ."

Let us Episcopalians, on both sides of the divide, all be candid and admit it: there is no rational explanation for the two statements, standing alone. In the first (and still private) statement, Bishop Jefferts Schori shows that she understands perfectly the nature of the request that Bishop Scriven made to her. And in the second, and public, statement, she spurns that same request, and transforms it into a voluntary renunciation of orders. Now listen to the Anglican Communion Institute's views on this travesty:

Defenders of the Presiding Bishop’s course of conduct attempt to soften the impact of these actions by claiming that all that is being done by these acceptances of “renunciation” is the removal of a license to act in TEC. But this is clearly erroneous. All bishops, including all TEC bishops, require a license to act outside the dioceses in which they are canonically resident. Indeed, the very canon the Presiding Bishop invokes in the case of Bishop Scriven provides that “No Bishop shall perform episcopal acts or officiate by preaching, ministering the sacraments, or holding any public service in a Diocese other than that in which the Bishop is canonically resident, without permission or a license to perform occasional public services from the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Bishop desires to officiate or perform episcopal acts.” (III.12.3(e).) If all the Presiding Bishop accomplished in her Declaration of Removal of Bishop Scriven was to inform all the bishops of TEC and the other authorities to whom the declaration was sent that Bishop Scriven needs permission or a license to act in their dioceses, it was a waste of time. That was as true on January 14 as it was the next day after the declaration was issued.

What the Presiding Bishop clearly intended was not this trivial notification, but the more significant one of barring Bishop Scriven from receiving any such permission. And the sole reason for that debarment is that he returned to the Church of England, the church of his ordination and consecration to the episcopate, where he is now a bishop in good standing. The Presiding Bishop treated his return to the Church of England in precisely the same manner she treated Bishop Steenson’s move to the Church of Rome. Does the Presiding Bishop draw no distinction between the two? Has the Presiding Bishop now broken communion with the Church of England?

Thus, it appears that the Presiding Bishop has attempted to remove from the ministry—or at a minimum, bar from TEC– a bishop of the Church of England who is subject to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Oxford and is working in England as director of a missionary society of the Church of England, the patron of which is the Archbishop of Canterbury. At this point, one must ask whether the Presiding Bishop is incapable of interpreting the canons or incapable instead of following them. Her abuse of the canons has now reached beyond TEC and into the Church of England itself.

If we can admit that there is no rational explanation for this Janus-like conduct, then the assessments of it by those on the receiving end begin to be more understandable, do they not? Bishop Wantland's perplexity at how the Presiding Bishop dealt with his similar request is now quite understandable (except, of course, to those whose hallmark is ad hominem attacks):
I can only conclude that either you (1) do not understand the plain and fairly simple language of either the Canons or my letter to you, or (2) have deliberately violated the Canons for your own purposes and contrary to your obligation as a Christian not to bear false witness.
Even if her official position was the result of the Presiding Bishop's talking to her Chancellor, it remains the fact that Bishop Wantland's two possibilities are not pleasant alternatives to contemplate, because the "subtleties" of the situation stand officially unexplained, warts and all, and no regular devotee of the Presiding Bishop requires any explanation. In consequence, we who simply watch and wonder are left with this: To any outside person, the official record makes it appear as though either (1) our Presiding Bishop cannot understand simple English---in which case, they will reasonably ask, how is she qualified to serve as Presiding Bishop? 

Or (2) she is deliberately certifying to all the Anglican world as a "fact", on her Chancellor's advice, that which she knows (because she does understand English, and has a Ph.D. degree) to be untrue---namely, that Bishop Wantland's statement that he was not renouncing his orders was a renunciation of his orders. In that case, we have a Presiding Bishop who blindly follows legal advice that is so bad that it requires the falsification of official statements in a desperate attempt to preserve what is seen as a legal "advantage". 

Either way, the person who is capable of such a thing should not be serving in a position of leadership. Is there a third alternative? Canon Gary L'Hommedieu believes so, but it is not pleasant to contemplate, either:
Conservatives have reacted with justifiable outrage, but their protests fall flat. They attributed Schori's action to duplicity and bad faith toward the Southern Cone, a sister Province of the Anglican Communion. Their accusations would have made sense in another time and would have carried at least some weight.

Today rationalists (those who believe that words mean what they say) must endure the scorn and ridicule once associated with the Flat Earth Society. Wantland's own written response to Schori contained no reasoned rebuttal but rather a string of insults (well deserved, in my view).

He accused her either of not understanding the plain meaning of English or else of deliberate malfeasance. He demonstrated the tragic naivete of a man who expected logic to define and delimit meaning, like a man flailing in the dark at an assailant whose footsteps he hears, whose breath warms the space in which he lunges and pivots, and yet, inexplicably, he is unable to land a blow. He is trapped in the nonsensical terror of a dream, desperately struggling to wake himself.

What's the moral of this latest misadventure of the TEC high command? That words mean what Power says they mean -- neither more nor less. It's a worn-out theme of postmodernists and the whole rabble of self-proclaimed malcontents, but coming from them it comes across as theater, not philosophy.
This "theater", however, is not playing only off-Broadway, at 815 Second Avenue. As the Anglican Communion Institute reminds us, there are issues at stake here for its namesake, as well: 
The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, in seeking to deal with what is regarded as a problem within her own province, has so misused the canons that it is no longer clear if The Episcopal Church understands what ordination and interchangeability of ministry in a Communion entails. Has The Episcopal Church de facto ceased to view itself and its Constitution and Canons as meaningfully related to the life of catholic Anglicanism at the most basic level and instead sees them as laws governing (it might be hoped) a national denomination and really nothing more? If so, we call on those Bishops of TEC who wish this church to remain “a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, in communion with the See of Canterbury” to call a halt to this conduct or to request that the Presiding Bishop clarify what her understanding is of the place of The Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion.
I predicted, in my previous post, that any explanation or attempted justification for Bishop Jefferts Schori's newest abuse of the canons, on the ground that she "had to do this" in order to remove Bishops Scriven and Wantland from the rolls of the Episcopal Church (USA) for pension purposes, if for no other reason, would fall flat. Using the "renunciation of ministry" canon to accomplish such a purpose is like using a flamethrower to remove a thistle from your garden: it does the job, to be sure, but there are far less drastic methods. 

Why could our Presiding Bishop not use those less drastic methods? She was in a quandary of her own making, as I explained in my previous post. Neither she nor the Standing Committee of the pretender "Diocese of Pittsburgh" (I am being blunt, but then what do you expect from a curmudgeon?) could afford, given the current lawsuit pending in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, to admit (a) that the Diocese of Pittsburgh---the only one ECUSA ever had, and the only true diocese that exists both legally and canonically in the Pittsburgh area right now---actually left the Church; or (b) that its Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan, had any authority whatsoever to transfer to the Province of the Southern Cone. 

For as the ACI reminds us, under ECUSA's view, Bishop Duncan ceased being a bishop when a "majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote in the House of Bishops"---interpreted as 50% +1 of those bishops who actually show up for a meeting---voted to depose him on September 18. And under the Canons, when he ceased being a bishop, his Assistant, Bishop Scriven, ceased being a Bishop as well (remember, this is ECUSA's view of the matter). But if Bishop Scriven's position terminated on September 18, then why the need to make his termination terminal---that is, permanent? Ah, well, that is because he essayed to write her and resign, don't you see? Had he simply gone about his business, he would have made it a little more difficult, but she would have found a way to treat his departure as a "renunciation". For it now must be crystal clear to all: one does not simply leave the ECUSA of this Presiding Bishop; one can only renounce one's ordination vows if one elects to leave by asking, and if one does not deign to request permission, then one has abandoned the communion of this Church. Joining ECUSA is meant to be permanent, so when you leave, departure has to be permanent.  

Bishops in the Anglican Communion are invited to ECUSA dioceses all the time. When they come, the diocesan host usually invites them to celebrate a mass, or perhaps to preach a sermon---indeed, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has done so on more than one occasion. But as Father Harris and the ACI happen to agree on this occasion, Bishop Henry Scriven---a Bishop in as good a standing with the Church of England as is Lord Carey---will not be able either to assist with a mass, or to preach a sermon in his episcopal vestments, in any loyal church in all of ECUSA. And why should that be? Given the fact of his debarment from ECUSA, the hope expressed by the Pittsburgh Standing Committee---that "he and his wife Catherine will visit us in the future"---rings just a bit hollow. Yes, Standing Committee members, he may visit, but he cannot co-celebrate, or officiate in his vestments, and all because he happened to get caught in a crossfire not of his making. Yet he may do so in every other province of the Anglican Communion---and he also may do so even in those ECUSA dioceses that do not recognize the validity of the "deposition" of Bishop Duncan. (No doubt if he does, however, the occasion will furnish a basis to depose yet one more hapless ECUSA bishop.)

No, there will be no apology from 815. Nor will 815 ever publish the actual exchange of letters between the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Scriven. As another commenter explained, over at another blog:
. . . Everything I have seen suggests that she fully believes in all her acts and that therefore, she is incapable of acting unlawfully, since she sees herself as fully lawful. We don’t run across a Schori very often, but one sees them in the sciences if you look for them. That is, her intelligence is not leavened with even a small shred of imagination. That is, she is unable to imagine herself doing wrong, and if you cannot imagine such a state, you cannot do it. What we see, what we know, is of no consequence to her because she is what we would call a fanatic, if we could imagine a fanatic without fanaticism. Such is Schori. She is simply a True Believer in herself.
In short, she is unbreakable. Others will break on her because they are capable of being of two minds. She is not. She may lead all around her to destruction, but we will find that she is herself indestructible.

Oh, it's a fine gallimaufry that Bishop Jefferts Schori has served up to those who elected her. As more and more bits and pieces are added to the stew, it becomes harder and harder to unmake it, and put things to right again. All that is left, as the last soupçon of ECUSA's dignity vanishes in the vapor, are pathetic little pleas like this one (slightly edited, for clarity's sake):
It may be TOO MUCH but it is all we have. The trick is that those who move to some other (Non-Anglican) church go through a process. For us, TEC, [in] the Anglican Communion, not only was there no real process (I do not count magic wand waving), but we are the same communion, and as such ought to be observant of each of our depositions/accepted renunciations.

As they say (over on their side): enough said.



  1. Having decided, perhaps unwisely, that Bishops who choose to leave ECUSA for other Churches in the Anglican Communion should be seen as having renounced the ordained ministry of ECUSA, the Presiding Bishop could hardly have taken a different course of action with Bp Scriven. Her actions, as my friend Mark Harris has asserted, serve as public notice that these Bishops no longer act with the authority of ECUSA. Her actions also make it clear that any episcopal acts of these Bishops, as long as they are in the US, are contrary to the long-standing tradition that two Churches in the Communion can have jurisdiction in the same area only by mutual agreement. Given the tendency of some of these Bishops to claim with one breath that thay are not members of ECUSA but are Bishops of Episcopal Dioceses, the Presiding Bishops actions seem more than reasonable. A wiser course might have been followed, e.g., transfers to other Churches, but other than Bp Scriven I know of no Bishop that came even close to requesting such a transfer. Or perhaps a simple press realese, without any use of the Canons, simply stating that a certain Bishop is no longer a Bishop in ECUSA. I would have liked that, but I'm sure that there would have been complaints about that as well.

  2. Is this a new "closed communion policy?"

    Perhaps the good Bishop could find a sympathetic U.S. Bishop to grant him a license to at least hold the chalice. After all, as Epsicopal Life Online itself reminds us,

    "Eucharistic rubrics in the Episcopal Church's version of The Book of Common Prayer (pages 322 and 354) require bishops or priests to preside at Eucharist. Deacons may assist in the ministration of the sacrament to the communicants and the BCP's "Additional Directions" on page 408 permit licensed lay people to administer the chalice. TEC's Constitution and Canons allow for licensed lay persons to administer the elements during a Eucharist (Canon III.4.6) or home visit (Canon III.4.7)." (Matthew Davies, October 27, 2008)

    Maybe not, as I recall something about revising the canons to put those rascally lay people under threat of breaking the "doctrine and discipline of this church" clause.

  3. I believe we may be seeing God replay the opening verses of Exodus Chapter 7 in Mrs. Schori's rather irrational actions bordering on the bizarre. If she is as smart as many seem to think she is her actions certainly contradict those assessments. She certainly seems possessed of a hardened heart.

  4. Fr. Weir,

    I would point out, notwithstanding your implicit claim to the contrary (specifically that contained in your comment "the tendency of some of these Bishops to claim with one breath that they are not members of ECUSA but are Bishops of Episcopal Dioceses"), that the particular ecclesial community with which you are affiliated is not the only "Episcopal" Church, i.e., in the construct which is named "the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America" (or PECUSA) there is no universal trademark right in the use of the word "Episcopal" that inheres uniquely to PECUSA. I am aware of a goodly number of bishops in a small country on an island just off the west coast of Europe which has its own "Episcopal Church." Even you may have heard of this country and the church in question—you may even be more familiar with it than am I. The country to which I refer is, of course, Scotland, and the church the "Scottish Episcopal Church." Of course, even closer to home is the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, of which you may also have heard.

    Assumptions are always tricky things, and, so as to avoid offense to any readers of this comment, I will not quote the adage centered on the word "assume" that is, I am sure, familiar to anyone having served in the U.S. military.

    Blessings and regards,
    Keith Toepfer

  5. Dear Mr. Toepfer,

    I am aware that there are other member Churches in the Anglican Communion, as well as the US denominations AME, AMEZ and CME, that have Episcopal in their legal names. That does not change the fact that some Bishops who are no longer members of ECUSA claim to be Bishops of Dioceses which I believe are ECUSA Dioceses. The question of whether I am right in this belief or our gracious host is will be decided, and I hope, for the sake of all of us, decided soon.

  6. Dear Fr. Weir,

    Please know that I share your hope for early decisions. It will allow those on both sides of the divide to move forward in their journey with our Lord. Nevertheless, I hope even more strongly that the various judges involved will act consistent with the Rule of Law, and taking into account all of the relevant facts. Had your comment to which I was responding been more explicit that you were referring to Episcopal Dioceses which you believe remain in PECUSA, I would have felt no impulse to discuss what appeared to be an assumption on your part.

    I believe that our gracious host shares both our mutual hope and my additional one as well. I am also grateful for your reply to my comment as well as for our host's typically thoughtful and considered professional opinions.

    Blessings and regards,
    Keith Toepfer

  7. Does anyone believe that the Lord God is deceived by all of this?