Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oh, Good Grief, Bishops -- WHEN Will You Act Consistently?

No thanks to The Lead's Jim Naughton, but the Episcopal Church (USA)'s House of Bishops covered itself again in shame this day. As the very last act of their six-day September meeting in Phoenix, they adopted a resolution addressed to their colleague, the Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison, Jr., begging him to resign immediately as Bishop of Pennsylvania. (As Fr. Rob Eaton observes at T19, notice what that says about the much-vaunted "hierarchy" of ECUSA: in other words, when push comes to shove, it does not exist.) In view of the previous actions taken by this same House of Bishops against Bishops Cox, Schofield, and Duncan, and in view of their Presiding Bishop's unilateral declarations of "renunciation" by Bishops Iker, Wantland, Scriven and Ackerman, this latest action is as pathetic as it is risible.

It is pathetic, because it confesses their lack of will to address a problem which they acknowledge is a scourge of the Church: abuse of minors by clergy, and the subsequent coverup of that abuse by the clergy's superiors. Instead of addressing the problem, they mouth pious platitudes which are completely belied by their confessions of inability to act.

Equally, their failure to act is risible in light of the manner in which most of them -- from the Presiding Bishop down to the most recent to be ordained -- found it "necessary" to vote to depose the Rt. Rev. Robert A. Duncan at their September meeting in 2008. Consider these contrasts:
  • Bishop Duncan had, by September of 2008, made absolutely no move to leave the Episcopal Church (USA), yet the assembled bishops saw fit to entertain a charge that he had "thought" about abandoning it -- and just as "encompassing [i.e., entertaining the thought of] the death of the King" was deemed sufficient to charge a British subject with treason, so Bishop Duncan's alleged "contemplating" leaving the Church for another province was treated by the bishops as sufficient grounds for his removal. Bishop Bennison, by way of contrast, actually engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, but a "thought crime" by Bishop Duncan was deemed more worthy of punishment than an actual violation of vows by Bishop Bennison.
  • Bishop Duncan was made the scapegoat for his diocese's decision to put a resolution to realign with another province on the agenda for its annual convention. Bishop Bennison, in contrast, stoutly resisted being made a scapegoat for his brother's actions, and the bishops chose to agree with him, rather than with Bishop Duncan.
  • The House of Bishops found that Bishop Duncan had violated his ordination vows by "contemplating" the removal of his diocese from the Church, and deposed him on that basis. That same House of Bishops has also agreed with the Court of Review that Bishop Bennison violated his ordination vows by protecting his brother from charges of abuse, but has excused the violation by treating it as non-actionable.
  • The Presiding Bishop announced her intention to bring the deposition of Bishop Duncan to a vote well in advance of the meeting of the House of Bishops, but this year she gave absolutely no advance notice that she would be bringing the case of Bishop Bennison up for the bishops' consideration. Instead, it was a last-minute gesture, by way of a finial fig leaf.
  • The Presiding Bishop also announced in advance what her rulings would be on any objections made to the vote to depose Bishop Duncan, thereby telling those who supported the move that they could safely vote in favor of it. She signaled no similar position with respect to Bishop Bennison, and thereby killed any plan to remove him before it could be born.
The hypocrisy does not stop there. Bishop Schofield, Bishop Wantland, Bishop Duncan, Bishop Scriven, and Bishop Ackerman each gave the Presiding Bishop a statement in writing that they were not renouncing or surrendering the orders into which they were ordained -- but she pronounced that they had "renounced" or "abandoned" them anyway. Bishop Bennison has likewise made repeated declarations that he was not resigning or vacating his see -- but the Presiding Bishop in this case takes him at his word, and does not find his statement of intent a "renunciation", nor does she bring forward a resolution to depose him. Go figure.

I have no love for what Bishop Bennison did to protect his brother, so I cannot exactly rejoice that the Church has thus far not seen fit to violate its canons in order to achieve the goal of removing him from office, as it did in the case of the bishops just mentioned. Nor can I even savor the poetic justice that would inhere in applying against Bishop Bennison the very same uncanonical procedures for which he undoubtedly would have voted (given that he was the first bishop in ECUSA to abuse the Abandonment Canon) in the cases of Bishops Cox, Schofield, and Duncan, but for his previous inhibition by the Presiding Bishop.

I find it nonetheless despicable, and wholly worthy of scorn, that these same spineless bishops can find themselves piously impotent in the case of Bishop Bennison, while viewing themselves as righteous vindicators of "the communion of this Church" in the case of their other -- far more faithful, and far less blameworthy -- colleagues. In both cases, the bishops so voting have trampled on the very communion which they profess to uphold.

And let them note that in the act of doing so, they have furnished Bishop Bennison with the means to hide behind Psalm 35, verse 26:

May those who want to harm me be totally embarrassed and ashamed!

May those who arrogantly taunt me be covered with shame and humiliation!

For, given their past inconsistencies, they are now nothing, if not absolutely covered with shame and humiliation. That is the price one pays when one chooses, out of expediency, an unscrupulous and morally incoherent path.


  1. My dogs would make better episcopoi than the HOB bishops who issued this pathetic, whining mess. My dogs know when to bark AND when to bite. These puny "bishops" are gutless and toothless.

  2. Did they consent to Bishop-elect Martins?

  3. No, it does not work that way unless the election occurs 90 days before a General Convention, St. Nikao. Each of the diocesan bishops will have to send in their consent individually to the Presiding Bishop, who will make an official tally and announce the result (as well as the result of the consents by the respective standing committees). The period in which to send in those consents will not end until around the beginning of February 2011.

  4. The streets of a certain hot spot will have to make room for a few more bricks.

    Was the vote unanimous?

  5. You would have thought that at least a couple of them would issue statements ex-communicating Bennison within the boundary of their dioceses, or some such. You know, actual action that at least has a symbolic consequence- as opposed to making themselves feel good with their "please resign" letter, which I understand he has already rejected.
    It is quite surprising that a "hierarchical" organization would not have a rule whereby their "senate" could remove a member by, say, a vote of 99-1.
    Of course, like so many other present members, Bennison never should have been consecrated in the first place, as he was obviously lying when he took the vow to defend the Faith. Now they are stuck with him. The see of Pennsylvania is now vacant not only from the point of view of the orthodox of the Anglican Communion, but from the view of almost everyone in TEC, except his few supporters and the HoB.