Monday, June 8, 2009

The Proper Treatment of Arrogance

It is not required of us as Christians that we be silent in the face of injustice. In commanding us to "turn the other cheek", Jesus asked that we not give tit for tat, but never required that we meekly accept the wrong thereby done. Our Lord was, to the contrary, outspoken against the moneychangers and dove-sellers in the Temple, and rebuked even His own disciple for resorting rashly to the sword. Paul also requires Christians to challenge their brother when he is in the wrong, and to call on him to mend his ways. 

So it is that I give you today a striking example of a richly deserved upbraiding of Bishop Jerry A. Lamb, whose uncanonical acts now bid fair to equal or surpass those of the Presiding Bishop. I wrote some time ago about his folly in presuming to "depose" clergy in the Diocese of San Joaquin. I warned that the only result of such an act would be to confirm that those very same clergy were needed to establish a lawful quorum so that the Special Convention held at Lodi on March 29, 2008 could transact business---including the business of confirming the Rt. Rev. Lamb, resigned, as "Provisional Bishop".  And after he followed through just last week, by signing sentences of deposition for 61 clergy, I confirmed the end result of what he had accomplished: a demonstration, for any and all to discern, that he was not lawfully confirmed in the office he now claims to occupy. The emperor had no clothes, and Bishop Lamb has no see.

One of those 61 clergy whom Bishop Lamb has purported to "depose" is the Reverend Michael Fry, currently serving what was formerly a CANA, and is now an ACNA, congregation in Georgia. When he received Bishop Lamb's first letter of "inhibition", Father Fry wrote him a very polite response explaining that his case was unlike the others in the Diocese of San Joaquin.  In particular, he had transferred out of the Diocese before it took any final vote to withdraw from the Church, and had done so with the full permission of its Bishop, who issued him letters dimissory.  Wrote Father Fry to Bishop Lamb, on December 2, 2008 (quoted with permission):
Dear Bishop Lamb,

I trust this letter finds you well. Please accept this letter as a formal "Denial" of the charges of abandonment of Communion under Canon IV.10.1.

I understand that you're dealing with a large number of clergy whom you do not know and whose circumstances in the present "troubles" vary. 

I left the Diocese of San Joaquin at the end of October 2007, prior to the vote to secede. I also received Letters Dimissory from Bishop Schofield dated October 29, 2007 transferring my orders to the Anglican Province of Nigeria under whose ecclesial authority I now serve (see attached copy).

As Bishop Schofield was, at the time, a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church still, as far as I'm aware, considers itself in Communion with the Anglican Province of Nigeria, the charges are plainly false. They are false both in the statement that I was a priest canonically resident in the Diocese at the time of the "Finding of Abandonment" as well as the claim that I did not request and receive a proper transfer. In any case I am in no conceivable sense under your authority or responsible to you for discipline.

Please correct your records. I will be grateful to receive your and the Standing Committee's retraction at your earliest convenience.

Yours in Christ,

/s/Michael Fry

One would think that this letter might have put an end to the matter. Even Bishop Lamb has acknowledged, in the verified complaint (i.e., signed under penalty of perjury) he filed in April 2008, and in each of the four amendments thereto he has filed since, that "In January 1989, defendant [the Rt. Rev. John-David] Schofield became Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin . . ." (par. 62), and that "On March 12, 2008, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops met, and pursuant to Canon IV.9.2 of the Episcopal Church, authorized the Presiding Bishop to depose defendant Schofield from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church" (par. 91).  Thus Bishop Lamb has sworn to a court of law under oath that John-David Schofield was Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin from January 1989 until (as he claims) March 12, 2008.  What, therefore, could possibly be the problem with letters dimissory issued by Bishop Schofield in October 2007?  

We do not have Bishop Lamb's response in full, but in his next letter, dated December 16, 2008, Father Fry quotes enough of it to enable us to see the ridiculous position which Bishop Lamb (along with his pseudo-Standing Committee) insisted on maintaining. Here is the beginning of that response, again quoted with permission:
Dear Bishop Lamb,

I received your letter of December 10 expressing that you "have a problem with the Letters Dimissory issued by Bishop John-David Schofield." I suggest that the problem is wholly yours and should be corrected on your end. As for your statement that you "do not recognize this as a valid transfer," may I take a moment to instruct you on the purpose of Letters Dimissory both historically and in Canon Law:

Letters Dimissory according to the Canons of the Episcopal Church [III.9.4(a)] are in essence a "testimonial." They are both a dismissal from the jurisdiction of the canonical authority presenting them (as the name implies) as well as a recommendation to any or a specific ecclesiastical authority receiving them. Your charge that the "National Church" does not have a record of such Letters is easily rectified: You have a copy, please forward it.

Bishop Lamb's complaint that the "National Church" has "no record" of the Letters Dimissory is in reality a charge against Bishop Schofield of dereliction of duty. For as Canon I.1.6 (b) (6) plainly requires, it is the duty of every Bishop having jurisdiction, among other things, to "forward to the Recorder, on or before the first day of March of each and every year . . . the names of the Clergy who have been transferred during the preceding twelve months, with the dates of the Letters Dimissory and of their acceptance, and the name of the jurisdiction to which transferred . . .". (Use of the word "jurisdiction", instead of "diocese", contemplates just the sort of transfer which here occurred.)

Father Fry quite properly points out that the letters serve only as a certificate, or "testimonial", of his good standing with the Diocese at the time of their issuance, and of his release from canonical residency in the Diocese of San Joaquin. (The canons define the term "canonically resident" as referring to "the canonical residence of a Member of the Clergy of this Church established by ordination or letters dimissory". Moreover, Canon III.10.2 (a) (2) requires that a bishop receive "Letters Dimissory or equivalent" before allowing any priest from a foreign church to officiate within that bishop's diocese. [Emphasis added both times.] How, then, can ECUSA expect a foreign church not to require them from its own diocesan when the reverse is the case?) 

Bishop Lamb, however, arrogates to himself an authority he does not (and cannot) possess, and chooses to treat the letters as something more: as a form of diplomatic recognition, as it were, of the existence of the jurisdiction to which Father Fry transferred. What he does is fairly astonishing, within the confines of the Anglican Communion: he purports to sit and decide the validity of inter-Church transfers after the fact---after, that is, the two churches in question have concluded the transfer satisfactorily between them. Having set up this straw man, Bishop Lamb then proclaims that he will not recognize "the transfer as valid." 

To which the only proper response is that given to Bishop Lamb by Father Fry, as follows:
The validity of the transfer is entirely in the eyes of the receiving jurisdiction. However you may feel about the situation is irrelevant. We are governed by canon law. I have attached a letter of certification from CANA that I am a clergyman in good standing (hence proof of acceptance). The charges of abandonment which you insist "will remain in force" are as farcical now as ever. I am an Anglican priest in good standing within a missionary jurisdiction of the Anglican Province of Nigeria. If you have any questions regarding the status of CANA you may explore the relationship yourself on the Province of Nigeria's website here:

To claim that I have "abandoned the communion of this church" is to insist that TEC is not in communion with the Province of Nigeria. That is a decision only General Convention can make. For you, or anyone else, to make that claim at this time is Orwellian in the extreme.
The claim, in short, is not Bishop Lamb's to make, even if it could be regarded as valid. The letters were valid when issued as between Bishop Schofield, who was the diocesan and had the authority to issue them (as many other diocesans did before him), and the Anglican Church of Nigeria, which accepted them. And that is all that anyone can have to say about the matter.

Thus Bishop Lamb challenges the validity of his predecessor's act for the sole purpose of asserting the right to "depose" from ECUSA someone who transferred out of it---who went to a sister church in the Anglican Communion, and hence in no sense of the word "abandoned the communion of this Church" within the meaning of Canon IV.10.  Indeed, the pseudo-Standing Committee of the pseudo-Diocese of San Joaquin did not even have jurisdiction to bring charges of abandonment of communion against Father Fry in the first instance.  Canon IV.10 begins (with italics added, for emphasis):
If it is reported to the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which a Priest or Deacon is canonically resident that the Priest or Deacon, without using the provisions of Canon IV.8 or III.7.8-10 and III.9.8-11, has abandoned the Communion of this Church . . . 
But by the letters dimissory signed in October 2007, Father Fry was no longer canonically resident in the Diocese of San Joaquin when the pseudo-Standing Committee purported to lodge charges against him.  Therefore, it was without jurisdiction to act.  (Or---if it thinks he was still canonically resident throughout 2008, then it was bound to include him in its count of a quorum for purposes of its "special convention" in March of that year.  It cannot have things both ways: present in the diocese for purposes of "deposition", but not present for purposes of counting as part of a required quorum in order to transact the lawful business of the diocese.) 

What we have here, in short, is one more instance of ECUSA's overreaching its jurisdiction for the sole purpose of exacting a highly un-Christian form of "vengeance" in punishment for what it regards as "border-crossing". The vengeance, in fact, is toothless and futile---nothing which either Bishop Lamb or ECUSA does at this point can affect in the slightest way the status of Father Fry as a priest in good standing with the Anglican Church of Nigeria. And given that fact, the rest of Father Fry's second letter to Bishop Lamb is fully understandable---he is under no conceit as to Bishop Lamb's true intentions:

Bishop, I have no illusions that you will agree with me on this. You will do whatever you and your lawyers and 815 feel you need to do, regardless of what Canon Law actually says or implies, regardless of the actual relationships within the communion, and regardless of what is good and right in the eyes of God. The leadership of TEC (of which you are a part) would make Robespierre proud if he could take a few moments away from the flames of Hell to appreciate your handiwork.

I would ask one favor of you, however: Please refrain from corresponding with me again. If your lawyers insist that some final word must be said I would encourage you to mail it to my California address which is probably still in your records. As I haven't lived there in well over a year, the Post Office will not forward it. That will make us both happy-you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you at least attempted to inform me of your final judgment and I will be spared the joy of reading it.

My Church secretary here (who is a Presbyterian and an interested observer of this and many other actions of the leadership of TEC) has suggested a new slogan for you all to consider-The Episcopal Church: "Can you feel the Love". You are welcome to use it, we would not begrudge you any copyright infringement.

Yours in Christ,

/s/ Michael Fry
It is not recorded where Bishop Lamb mailed his "sentence of deposition".  Should that meaningless piece of paper find its way to Father Fry, however, he would be entirely justified in treating it as German composer Max Reger dealt summarily with a similar piece of scrap, penned by one of his critics, in 1906. (You may read the full account of that precedent---and of an even earlier one, from Lord Sandwich---at this link.)

When an organized Church grasps at straws with which to assert its validity, its power and influence are on the wane.  The futility of ECUSA's pseudo-depositions, pronounced by a pseudo-bishop installed in a pseudo-diocese, which in turn was conceived in an illegitimate meeting that lacked a constitutional quorum (as proved conclusively by the very actions of that pseudo-diocese and its pseudo-bishop), is now out in the open, for all to see---and to scorn.


  1. Dear Mr. Haley,

    Please accept my thanks for publishing the relevant parts of this exchange of correspondence. And also feel free to convey my appreciation to Fr. Fry for sharing this with us through you.

    I am now quite free of any anxiety or concern that TEC lacks sufficient line to manage the self-conducted execution by hanging. (As a retired Naval officer, I reserve the use of the word that rhymes with hope for a similar item made from twisted steel wire.) The logically incoherent correspondece of Bp. Lamb to Fr. Fry has happily set my mind completely at ease on that question.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  2. Dear Mister Curmudgeon,

    If TEc's accusations stand up in court, how wrong are the court's findings? I mean, I know they are wrong from what I can tell, by what you write and what the canons allow us to see, but how obscenely wrong would they be to justice and it's cause?


  3. Kudos to Fr. Fry!

    "The leadership of TEC (of which you are a part) would make Robespierre proud if he could take a few moments away from the flames of Hell to appreciate your handiwork."

    Robespierre may not have to travel far to see that handiwork!

  4. Dear Mr. Haley,

    I agree that the situation in San Joaquin is a mess, but I would suggest that it is at least in part a mess because, as one of my colleagues put it, the Diocese had become disfunctional during Bishop Schofield's episcopate. That comment came in an exchange about a "priest" who was deposed in my Diocese after it was discovered that his resume was riddled with lies, that there was some doubt that he had been ordained, and that he had stolen money from the parish that he served here. Then, claiming to be a persecuted traditionalist, although he never took the side of real traditionalist here, he was "restored" to orders by Bishop Schofield. I belive that when the facts were made known to Bishop Schofield, the "restoration" was rescinded.

    While I do not know Bishop Lamb's thinking on the matter of Fr. Fry, might not the fact that the Letter Dimissory was to a Bishop acting in violation of the requests of the Windsor Report have something to do with Bishop Lamb's uneasiness? Might it not be charitable to conclude that Bishop Lamb is convinced that the Letter Dimissory was invalid because it was to a jurisdiction that is not recognized by ECUSA - in which San Joaquin was a Diocese at the time - nor by the Anglican Communion's Instruments of Communion? To call Bishop Lamb's position arrogant is, at the very least in my view, uncharitable, and at the most, arrogant.

  5. Father Weir, let me understand you: letters dimissory are issued and accepted in October 2007, and the priest in question takes up residence in his new post. Then, in May 2009, nineteen months after the fact, a bishop whose election was on its face invalid, and who does not contest the fact that his predecessor was a full bishop in ECUSA at the time he signed the letters in question, decides to treat the letters all of a sudden as void, and with the priest in question no longer having any kind of connection with, or canonical residency in, the bishop's jurisdiction, he is pronounced deposed?

    Under what canon or other provision in ECUSA does one bishop get to declare the episcopal acts of another invalid---nearly two years after the fact? If Bishop Lamb can do that, why cannot another Bishop declare Bishop Lamb's election "invalid" and pronounce all of his appointments invalid?

    Also, you claim that "ECUSA" did not "recognize" CANA at the time. Well, just who is the "ECUSA" to which you refer? General Convention? (It passed no such resolution.) All 110 dioceses? (They've never taken a vote.) Each of the nine American Provinces? (Likewise.) What about all the other bishops who signed letters dimissory to the Anglican Church of Nigeria, or to the Anglican Church of Rwanda, or to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in the years between 2003 and 2008? Are all those letters suddenly to be declared "invalid" too? By whom?

    Be careful, Father Weir, of falling into the left's favorite rationale of "Oh, well, all the people who matter think it's OK, so it must be all right, then---even if an argument could be made that it's illegal." Deciding that you are right---even if it means asserting authority that you do not have---and then sticking to it when it is pointed out that you lack the authority---fits my definition of arrogance.

  6. What a minute - Robespierre in the flames of hell ??? Isn't he in Holy Women, Holy Men ?

    But, seriously, sounding the warning is our duty. We are not to resist by becoming like those who oppress, but we are to call them out and call them to repent.

    Fr. Fry's measured escalation is exemplary, IMO. He starts out with a very calm statement of facts which should have cleared up the whole matter.

    When the evil gets louder and the illegality compounds, Fr. Fry turns up his volume - not in a "tit for tat", but as a needed spiritual warning to those who are destroying themselves by their actions.

  7. Mr. Haley,

    Once again, you have read more into my comments than I intended. All that I was suggesting was that putting the worst possible interpretation on Bishop Lamb's actions in a post with the title "The Proper Treatment of Arrogance" was, at the very least, uncharitable. You do not have to agree with the possible rationale for the Bishop's actions that I put forward, but I suggest that you entertain the possibility that there might be non-arrogant basis for his actions.

    I have read the canons and they are clear that Letters Dimissory are to be presented to the Ecclasiastical Authority of a Diocese. I would argue - and I know that we might disagree about this - that it is not within the authority of dioceses to recognize as dioceses organizations like CANA or ACNA that are not so recognized by the General Convention. The decisions about with which Churches ECUSA is in commnunion are not left to the dioceses. I cannot ask for a Letter Dimissory for presentation to the New York State Conference of the United Church of Christ and expect that request to be honored - or, if honored, not to be followed by a request that I renounce my standing as a cleric in ECUSA. That would be true even if my diocese decalred itself to be in communion with the UCC, a declaration which would be invalid.

    I continue to be amazed at the crazy notion that clergy who have left ECUSA should not be recognized as having abandoned the communion of this Church.

  8. Fr. Weir, I continue to be surprised that the "abandonment of communion canon" is even invoked. "Progressives" should rightly point out that it was the product of a small minded, nationalistic pan-Protestant American anti-Catholicism that most of us today find absurd and embarassing.

    It is not a "crazy idea" to refute its misapplication. Might even be sane to ask for its deletion - or at least redefinition to apply it accurately it to clergy who dabble in non-Chrisitan religions, which is a presenting denominational problem.

  9. The "abandonment of communion" canon may need to be eliminated, but until it is its application to those who choose to leave ECUSA seems to me to be fair. One could argue that the application is imprudent, but given the claims of Bishops that, having left ECUSA, they remain Bishops of Episcopal Dioceses, I continue to support its use as one very clear way for those who remain to recognize the departures.

    Whenever ECUSA has been criticized for defending property rights, I recall the comments of a priest who serves the Anglican Chapel in our town. He told me that he had advise the rector of a parish that was considering leaving ECUSA that he should simply turn over the bank accounts and the keys to the building and start fresh without any litigation. Although the departure of that congregation has not been without some problems, the advice was followed.

  10. "The "abandonment of communion" canon may need to be eliminated . . ."

    No, they (for there are two such canons, one for bishops and one for other clergy) do not need to be eliminated; the bishops of ECUSA simply have to stop abusing them beyond their intended purpose. I have written far too extensively on this topic to summarize it all in a single comment, and even to attempt to do so would take this thread off topic. Nevertheless, I would ask Father Weir and others inclined to support the use of the abandonment canons to "remove from the rolls" those who have merely transferred to another Church within the Anglican Communion to use this link if they wish to comprehend the extent to which those canons have been twisted, in just the last seven years, beyond any semblance of their original meaning.

  11. Interesting dialogue on abandoning communion. It appears a better term would be to "leave the control of this pathetic little sect." The idea that someone legally transfering from TEC to another branch of the Anglican Communion should be abandoning the communion of TEC is nonsensical. TEC IS in communion with the Anglican Church of Nigeria. What do we do when people transfer to Dioceses in England? Are they deposed as well? I doubt it!

    An update for Fr. Weir: I received my 3rd interesting note from Bp. Lamb last week puporting to depose me. In it he claimed that I had "not made any renunciation, retraction, or denial" which is ludicrous in the extreme. I sent him two denial letters. Please refrain from entertaining charitable thoughts toward this Bishop. He is at best an idiot; if not, a liar and an abuser of power (not to mention a usurper violating the laws of the church he claims to be upholding).

  12. Mr. Haley,
    While it may be true that some of those clergy who have left have requested transfer to another member church, the number who have is, I would guess, far less than those who did not. There seems to be, at least, a lack of courtesy to one's Bishop in neglecting to make the request.

    The other issue, which is still unresolved, is how to view the actions of Bishops who decide that boundary crossing is a good thing. The Windsor Report requested that these actions stop, but that request been scornfully, IMV, rejected. Receiving into one's Church clergy of the Episcopal Church, not for the purpose of their working in your own Church, but for the purpose of serving in the same geographical region as the Church they left, is, clearly a break from long-standing practice. How is a Bishop in ECUSA to respond to these actions? One could, I suppose, have sent Letters Dimissory to a Diocese in another member church and then lodge a formal complaint about border crossing, but as we know there is little chance that such a complaint would make any difference.

    This is a messy business, but I think that the messiness cannot be blamed on ECUSA's leaders alone.

  13. Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words. - Proverbs 23:9

    It sounds like Bishop Lamb is just trying to be a jerk. It serves no one to quarrel about things like this or with people like this. It is best just to ignore him and focus on the matters at hand.

  14. Bishop Lamb trying to be a jerk? Looks like he succeeded.


  15. I have little desire to prolong what is proving to be a fruitless discussion, but I want to pose two questions to Fr. Michael Fry: Have you made any "made any renunciation, retraction, or denial" of your departure from ECUSA? If you are serving a congregation within the USA, don't you see that as a violation of long-established practice?

  16. A "long established practice" would be something that came down from the church being a bad thing....


  17. Milton,

    You are quite right that I have abandoned the Church's long-established view on homosexuality and I am willing to present an argument for my convictions. What I was asking those who are abandoning the tradition that there be only one Anglican diocese in a geographical area was to present a justification for their actions. Not, I hope, an unreasonable request.

  18. Father Weir, you have commented on the later post, so I gather you have read it. The answer to your request for a justification for there being more than one "Anglican" jurisdiction in the same geographical area is in these words:

    "[B]y driving out all those who disagree with invoking God's holy orders and sacraments in recognition, blessing, and even encouragement of [homosexual] behavior, ECUSA and ACoC will inevitably define themselves over time by what they choose to celebrate. And that will make them separate from the Anglicans who do not celebrate the same things."

  19. Mr.Haley,
    I am not at all bothered by the creation of ACNA, but I ask questions for much the same reason that you ask challenging questions - because I hope people will think about their actions.

    You will not surprised that I disagree with your assertion that ECUSA has driven out those who have freely chosen to leave. In fact, I think that language robs those who have left of the dignity of their departure. Far from being driven out against their will, they have left out of conviction.

    Perhaps there will be multiple Anglican Communion member churches in North America. I would actually welcome that because it could help us stay in relationship. However, for the present ACNA is not a member of the Communion and those who are claiming that there congregations are part of the Communion through their relationships with other churches of the Communion may find themselves disappointed.

  20. We really do not disagree on this point, Father Weir; we just choose to employ different language, due to our different perspectives. To me, the consecration of V. Gene Robinson and the soon-to-be-approved liturgies for same-sex blessings constitutes the "driving out" of which I spoke. For you, the people have chosen to leave "out of conviction", which you respect. I can live with that. Someone who chooses to leave a Church with whose actions he disagrees "out of conviction" is someone who has to leave because the actions of those who remain will not allow him to be true to his convictions. It is a matter of semantics to say whether the actions or the individual's convictions forced him to leave.

    I also have no problem with the fact that ACNA will not initially, and may not ever, be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. As I said in the other post, those Anglicans who are in agreement with each others' tenets will form a new type of Anglican Communion of their own, and it will be the larger of the two. So it will be academic whether ACNA bishops are invited to Lambeth or not. The Communion to which they belong will not have the ABC at its head, and so there will be no reason to convene with him.

    I suspect that after the debacle of ACC-14 the Global South will never again trust the ABC to respect their position. He has been reduced in their eyes to a puppet for those who furnish the bulk of the ACC's budget, and is now irrelevant to their larger goals to keep together the faith as they had it delivered to them.

  21. Mr. Haley,
    It is already the case that the Primate of Nigeria doesn't trust the Archbishop of Canterbury. Last summer in a speech which Arbp Akinola was characterized by The Times as accusing Dr. Williams of apostasy, Arbp Akinola said, “In the face of global suspicion of the links of Islam with terrorism, Lambeth Palace is making misleading statements about the Islamic law — sharia — to the point that even secular leaders are now calling us to order. We can no longer trust where some of our Communion leaders are taking us.” Perhaps there are some hints of lingering anger over British colonial rule, but it seems clear to me that the "bonds of affection" between the Curch in Nigeria and the Church of England are seriously starined by all sorts of issues. My opinion, FWIW, is that Arbp Akinola can see Dr. Williams's comments about sharia only in the light of his own context and cannot see that in the very different context of the UK sharia can be seen differently. the reverse might be said about Dr. Williams, however his comments were not about sharia in Nigeria but in the UK.

    What a gift it would be to all of us if we could begin to see things in the light of other people's contexts.