There is always the hot seat question: it happens in ordinations, it happens at a marriage. Thank God it does not happen at baptism or in death.
In the Marriage Service the Celebrant asks “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now, or forever hold your peace.” (US BCP, pg 424)
In the Ordination of a Deacon or Priest it is, “if any of you know any impediment or crime because of which we should not proceed, come forward now, and make it know.” (US BCP, pgs 527, 539)
In the Ordination of a Bishop it is, “Nevertheless, if any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known.”
Usually, following these hot seat questions there is a pause and then sometimes a quiet sigh of relief, and then things move on.
The sign is, of course, because just cause, impediment, crime, or reason, are words that tend to call up matters in the secret heart of each of us that sit there unresolved. Even when tended to by confession and or restitution there are tendrils of unsettled issues. They are there and they never quiet go away. So, when no one stands up and says something, we sigh quietly in relief.
Those being ordained bishop have been elected, with all the assumptions that in that process, and still the congregation is asked, “you have heard testimony given that N.N. has been duly and lawfully elected to be a bishop of the Church of God to serve in the Diocese of N. You have been assured of his suitability and that the Church has approved him for this sacred responsibility. Nevertheless…” (US BCP 514) Here, even with the trial by fire that constitutes the election process in most Dioceses, the background checks, the election itself, the consents of bishops and standing committees (or deputies), and even with the widest possible information available, “Nevertheless…”
The breath of field for questions to be raised grows from the question of lawfulness to, in the case of the ordination as bishop, the all inclusive “any reason.”
I was quite interested therefore in the reports of the ordination of the Rev. Canon Barry L. Beisner as Bishop Coadjutor of Northern California. When the hot seat question came in this service, there was someone ready to speak. According to The Living Church ,
“A priest tried in vain to read aloud a typed, two-page statement of protest, but was not heard. The Rev. James A. Wilson, who served most recently at St. Michael’s, Anderson, distributed the statement, saying that Canon Beisner’s consecration was deeply troubling to the church, according to an account by The Sacramento Bee. General Convention consented in June to the election of Canon Beisner, who was divorced twice before his current marriage.”
The Living Church report said that the priest tried "in vain" to read his protest but “was not heard.” When I first read that I understood it to mean that he somehow was ignored, snubbed or shouted down. If so that would have been a terrible breach of the whole reason for asking the questions in the first place.
However, further on in the Living Church story and throughout in the Episcopal News Service story, it was clear that (i) the priest “asked if he could read his objection aloud,” (ii) Bishop Bainbridge asked to see what he intended to read, took him, other bishops and counselors aside, and returned with their concurrence (iii) and determined to continue. In other words, Fr. Wilson was heard, and heard out, by the consecrators.
The Episcopal News Service’s report was clearer: “One priest objected during the consecration service to Beisner’s election as bishop. The Rev. James Wilson, former rector in Anderson, asked if he could read his objection aloud. Bainbridge asked to see what he intended to read and then asked Wilson to accompany him off the dais with other bishop "counselors." Bainbridge returned and said that Wilson had offered two unnamed objections.
"It is our intention to move ahead," he said. "We are people who practice mercy and believe in God's grace."
The Living Church also quoted a statement from The Rev. Canon Stephen N. Brannon, vice chancellor that confirms the ENS description:
“The objections presented were identical to those raised and dealt with thoroughly at the General Convention, at which time both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies consented to the election of Canon Beisner,” Fr. Brannon said in a written statement he provided to The Living Church. “Absolutely nothing new was raised in the objections presented by Fr. Wilson. It was the unanimous judgment of those taking part in the deliberations at the ordination, which included Bishop Bainbridge...Chancellor Miles Snyder, Vice Chancellor Charles Mack, and myself, that there were no constitutional, canonical or other reasons presented which would preclude the ordination from going forward.”
Fr. Wilson’s statement can be read HERE. It is a well reasoned, honorable and fine statement. I am glad the consecrators read it with him present. I am glad they proceeded. What was new in this statement was Fr. Wilson, and he was heard. He was heard by the bishops, not by the congregation. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
In each of the occasions where hot seat questions are raised there are a variety of ways to deal with objections.
It would be quite surprising for there to be revelations of previously undisclosed or unconsidered impediments, illegalities or criminality at the ordination of a bishop. Barring such revelations what are the “reasons” that might be brought forward? And on what level might they stand?
At the ordination of Bishop Robinson and it appears at the ordination of the Bishop of Northern California the reasons that constituted the objections were all considered in depth in the run up to the ordination. The purpose in stating the objections once again was to affirm the continued opposition to the ordination of the persons being presented.
Because everyone already knows the nature of the opposition and had determined to proceed, it seems to me a matter of judgment by the bishop presiding at the service as to whether to have the objector read a statement out loud or have it considered in private.
Fr. Wilson did everyone a service, except himself, in having a prepared statement. Had he simply stood to deliver his remarks rather than asking permission to read his statement aloud (see the ENS article) there would have been little recourse except to let him proceed. As it was, Bishop Bainbridge was quite in order to review the matter with Fr. Wilson present and with the other consecrators.
Would it have harmed the proceedings in any way to let him return and read the document? No. But neither would it have served any particularly useful purpose. Indeed, not having it read has given it greater publication than it might otherwise have had.