Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stuck Inside of Charleston With the Title IV Blues Again

"Sooner or later, one of us must know
That you just did what you were supposed to do."

Would you want Bob to sing the Sursum Corda?
Crusty Old Dean had a long drive to and from Louisville, KY, the past few 24 hours.  Since it's public radio pledge time in Columbus and Louisville, he relied heavily on Spotify to get him through the trip.  Spotify allows you to stream almost anything you want, and at times Crusty started free-associating, as one song would make him think of another, and so on.  Anyway, Crusty got into a mini-Dylan phase during the trip.  During his foray into born-again evangelicalism in 1979, Bob did not join the Episcopal Church, but COD did find the words above from "One of Us Must Know" come to him as he pondered the current situation with the diocese of South Carolina, and the recent certification by the Presiding Bishop of charges of abandonment of communion by Bishop Mark Lawrence.

First, the canon itself.  Keep in mind that canons are living documents, a good number of which arise from specific circumstances that have arisen in the life of the church.  Thus, much like soylent green, canons are, in a sense, people.

The first version of the canon on abandonment of communion was passed in 1853, to deal with the case of Bishop Levi Silliman Ives of North Carolina (like assassins, apparently apostates warrant the full three name treatment).  While on a trip to Europe, Bishop Ives wrote from Rome to his diocese announcing he had been received into the Roman Catholic Church (and by the Pope himself, to boot).  There was no real category to deal with such an action.  Resignation of a bishop -- yes, that had been accounted for.  But a bishop who joins another church?  Thus the first version of "abandonment of communion" came about.  It was short, sweet, frontier justice - if any bishop openly renounced the doctrine of this church or was received into another body "such bishop...shall be held, ipso facto, as deposed." (Canon 1, 1853).  No trial, no chance to retract -- the act itself automatically conferred deposition.  This was passed rather quickly to deal with the Ives matter, and was revised in 1859, with several additions made.  First, someone had to determine that the actions had actually taken place -- and here "certify" first appears.  In the 1859 canon, it is the diocesan standing committee which is to "make certificate of the fact" that what was done actually happened and warranted abandonment.  Second, there's an opportunity to deny the charges; the bishop has six months to make a response (yeah, six months seems a long time, but remember, Twitter hadn't been invented yet).  Third, there's an actual process of deposition: the action of abandonment itself no longer automatically confers deposition,  a majority vote of the House of Bishops is required to depose a bishop.

The 1859 revisions, more or less, provided the general overall structure of the canon from then until  the present. There are  a) definitions what constitutes abandonment; b) some entity has to certify the actions actually took place and rise to the level of abandonment; c)  there's an opportunity for a response from the accused; and d) the House of Bishops votes on any possible deposition.

Not the only one to have an "oops" moment.
Now, within this overall framework the  canon has been been amended several times. For instance, in 1874, when again something occurred nobody had planned for.  Bishop George Cummins, assistant bishop (1800s-speak for what we would now call coadjutor) of Kentucky, announced his intentions to leave the Episcopal Church and "transfer my work and office," eventually forming what would become the Reformed Episcopal Church.  Bishop Benjamin Smith, the senior bishop (and Cummins' diocesan bishop in addition to Senior Bishop -- AWKWARD!) duly informed Cummins he had six months to respond to the accusation of abandonment (which, recall, was the very letter Cummins sent to Smith announcing he was going to be transferring his ministry elsewhere, so the evidence was pretty ironclad).  Cummins then proceeded to hold an organizing conference for the Reformed Episcopal Church and consecrate another bishop.  In response to this "Oops!  Who woulda thought a bishop could go rogue?" the canon was amended to allow for a suspension of a bishop accused of abandonment of communion, by the Senior Bishop (1800s-speak for Presiding Bishop) with the consent of the three senior bishops by date of consecration.  It also was amended to allow for a special meeting of the House of Bishops to vote on the deposition.  All this was needed because Cummins was still a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church when he started the Reformed Episcopal Church and consecrated a new bishop on his own authority.  There needed to be a mechanism to suspend bishops while allowing them time to respond, and to allow for a way to vote on deposing them, since the House of Bishops at that time only met once every three years.

There was one more case of bishops behaving badly that warranted a revision.  Two changes were made to the canon at the 1979 General Convention.  One removed the certifying agent from the Standing Committee of the diocese to the Advisory Committee of the Presiding Bishop.  (This was no council of cronies or card-playing friends of the PB; the Advisory Committee at that time consisted of presidents and vice-presidents of provinces, and the presiding officer was not a bishop.)  Again, this was due to something which was not foreseen:  what to do about a retired bishop, who did not relate to a Standing Committee?  Which leads to the second change:  an additional cause for abandonment was added: "exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds the same, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation..."  This change was made due to the participation in 1978 by Bishop Albert Chambers, retired bishop of the diocese of Springfield, in the consecration of bishops for a proposed Anglican Church in North America (no, that's not a typo, it should sound familiar).  A group of clergy and lay leaders who objected to the ordination of women held a service in Denver in 1978 in which Bishop Chambers, assisted by Philippine Independent Bishop gone rogue Francisco Pagtakhan and a letter from Bishop Mark Pae of Korea supporting the consecration of Dale Doren, consecrated  Doren to the episcopate (Crusty Old Dean is unsure whether the letter was laid on along with Chambers' and Pagtakhan's hands).  The newly-consecrated Doren then joined Chambers and Pagtakhan in consecrating two additional bishops (whether the letter from Bishop Pae, after participating in the consecration, later concelebrated the eucharist has not been determined).

This was, more or less, how the canon stood through the 1990s and 2000s, with the only substantive change being the body that certified abandonment, along with the eventual removal of the option for a trial.  The canon would be amended to reflect  changes  the disciplinary process, so that the same body which examined charges made against bishops became the one which also certified charges of abandonment.

A couple of changes were made in 2009.  One is that the consent of the three senior bishops is no longer required to inhibit a bishop for whom the charge has been certified.  Restriction (formerly inhibition, formerly suspension) is now solely at the discretion of the Presiding Bishop, presumably because certification by the Disciplinary Board is determinative that the action meets the standard of abandonment.  Second, the certifying body was changed again to reflect the revisions in the disciplinary processes - it is now the Disciplinary Board for Bishops which certifies that the actions constituting abandonment have taken place.  The question of voting on depositions was not changed, despite some grumbling about the ambiguity there.  The "majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote"  has been required to depose a bishop for abandonment.  In some deposition votes taken in recent years, questions were raised as to what "majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote" meant.  Does it mean a majority of all bishops (including retired bishops, who can vote?).  Thus (for argument's sake, numbers are not exact) if there are 200 diocesan, assisting, suffragan, and retired bishops who are alive at any given time (and thus capable of voting), are 101 votes needed to depose a bishop?  Or, if the House of Bishops meet and 140 bishops show up for the vote, are only 71 votes needed?  In the case of the deposition of Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, the ruling was that this meant a majority of those present, if a quorum had been determined.

OK, everything is crystal clear, right?

Raj for Presiding Bishop!
So, to quote Rerun, what's happening now?

In 2011, charges were made against Bishop Mark Lawrence that he had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.  The Disciplinary Board for Bishops dismissed those charges in November of 2011 - in part because many on the Board saw those as actions of the diocese, not the bishop; thus a majority could not be reached as required (as explained in a letter by Bishop Dorsey Henderson).  However, at a September, 2012 meeting of the Disciplinary Board, these previous dismissed charges went forward, apparently implicating Bishop Lawrence this time around due to his failure to rule the actions of the diocese (which can be construed as abandonment of communion) out of order or speak against them.  Additional charges were also certified, including one pertaining to the issuing of "quitclaim" deeds by the diocese to parishes.  This action was widely seen as a prelude to out-maneuver any future actions to claim parish property -- by relinquishing claims and transferring ownership to parishes, it would make it theoretically more difficult for the denomination to try to gain ownership or control of the properties.  The Presiding Bishop has communicated the actions of the Disciplinary Board to Bishop Lawrence, along with a notice of restriction of his ministry.  Bishop Lawrence has said that confidentiality is no longer possible, given automatic actions put in place by the diocese which are now set into motion (see below).

So what's next?  Crusty is planning a second, longer post on some of the eccesiological issues here, such as notions of whether dioceses are sovereign and the relationship between the General Convention and dioceses.  There's lots to be said on that front, in this posting COD will keep channeling Raj, Dwayne, Rerun, and the gang and focus on what's happening now.

By canon, Bishop Lawrence has 60 days to respond.  However, we may not need to wait that long because, apparently, the diocese of South Carolina, sort of like in the movie Dr Strangelove, can trigger a doomsday device automatically.  Because disciplinary action was taken against Bishop Lawrence, two resolutions passed by the diocese previously automatically are activated: one disaffiliates the diocese and withdraws from the Episcopal Church; the other calls for a special diocesan convention, which will be held November 17, 2012.  One does not need COD's significant powers of prognostication to guess what might happen in Charleston in November.  Whether he responds or not, it looks as though deposition of Bishop Lawrence, reorganization of the diocese with a new Standing Committee and provisional bishop, and legal action to claim title to property and funds will follow.  Like a good Dylan song, the deposition song now has multiple verses (and BTW the denomination overall has prevailed thus far in litigation, though not every case has been litigated to conclusion).

Driving through the beautiful fall colors of northern Kentucky and southern Ohio, COD thought of the long, cumulative, chain of events that brought us to this place.  Bishop Lawrence's election was not without controversy; questions were raised at the time as to whether he would or would not seek to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church.  He was elected twice; the first time, the election was ruled "null and void" because a majority of consents from Standing Committees were not received, due to Standing Committees declining to give consent and some Standing Committees not providing the proper canonical form for their consents.  Bishop Lawrence was re-elected at a second diocesan convention where he was the only candidate, and consents received that time around.  The diocese has distanced itself from the Episcopal Church,  and disavowed actions of the Episcopal Church, before now formally withdrawing its accession to the Constitution and Canons.

As he drove back from Louisville this morning, COD was reminded of a time when he was about 12 years old. CODD (Crusty Old Dean's Dad) owned a printing factory back in the day when printing was messy and loud and involved lots of big, clanking machines.  COD used to work at the factory in the summer, and smelting lead to make pig ingots for linotype machines was one of his jobs (yes, CODD let COD handle 600 degree molten metal; and not just any liquid metal, lead; and yes, very few people alive probably know what the previous sentence means).  Anyway, COD was taking a break, sitting on top a big, five-foot-high roll of paper.  COD used to like to sit up on the rolls of paper  because you could see most of the factory floor.  About forty feet away from me, COD noticed that one of the paper cutting machines had a jam; you hooked one of these five-foot rolls onto it, and you adusted a huge blade to cut the paper into the size pieces needed for a given job.  It had stopped running, and COD noticed the operator leaning in to clear a jam.  With horror, COD noted that the rather portly operator's ample waistline was about to come into contact with the lever that paused the machine -- when the lever was pushed back into place, it would start up again, possibly with the hand in the machine.  COD could see the whole thing happening, almost in slow-motion, and helpless to do anything.  It was too loud to shout: dozens of machines were pounding away, nobody would have heard me shout.  The paper cutter was too far away for me to run over.  I thought about throwing the plastic Coke bottle in my hand to cause a distraction.

But it was too late.  The operator's belly hit the lever, the machine started up, and the blade came down.  Luckily, because of where it hit, there was lots of blood but nothing a lot of stitches couldn't solve; if it had struck a few inches in one direction, it could've taken off a finger or two.

COD thought of this story, at first wondering why, but then it came to me:  it was another time I felt like I was watching something unfold, in slow motion, with nothing I could do.  When Bishop Lawrence was elected, Crusty figured there was about a 75 percent chance South Carolina and Bishop Lawrence would go down the same path as Quincy, Fort Worth, San Joaquin, and Pittsburgh.  After Bishop Lawrence's first year in office, COD upped that to about 95 percent.  Crusty even tried to do something, albeit inadvertently.  He crashed the Nashotah House Seminary Reception at the 2009 General Convention, and found himself unexpectedly spending about 45 minutes in conversation with Bishop Lawrence and Bishop Ed Salmon, bishop of South Carolina once removed talking about ways to stay in dialogue and relationship despite real and obvious differences.  Crusty figured Nashotah would have the best liquor of the seminary receptions and had gone there with really only that intention.

Yet what many expected would unfold unfolded, and in the end everyone did what we expected them to do.  The diocese withdrew, abandonment charges were brought, Bishop Lawrence will be deposed, and the litigation will begin.

Sooner or later, one of us must know, that you just did what you were supposed to do.   Perhaps it's fitting,  but nonetheless still disheartening, that Bob's song is a post-mortem to a relationship that was already over.


  1. References to Dylan, Soylent Green and What's Happening Now along with a carefully considered exposition on the state of the church.

    THIS is why I read COD.

  2. An admirer of the law "getting it right" intellectually--whether that "cuts" right, left or center--over law that seems to "get" abdication and simplicity in ecclestical-related matters, even if getting it right is less facile and fraught with some political heat. And thankfully, not all courts are charmed by the simplictic mantra represented by "Individuals may leave TEC but parishes may not". A.S. Haley has an excellent post re the pending Masterson case in Texas, quoting Justice Johnson of the Texas court: "A church can say who its members are, but it cannot say what's a trust...." and if that's "wrong" legally, then something's turned upside down somewhere--thankfully, not true in some jurisdictions.

  3. Dear COD. Thanks for the historic but not histrionic essay on the canons. Sounds like Bishop Lawrence figured out a way to allow parishes to keep their property. Particularly if 815 doesn't have enough money for all the lawyers they will need. By the way, my dad was a hot lead printer and I know all about that stuff.


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