3/21/2007

Bishop Howe on the Presiding Bishop re Fr. Lawrence

Bishop John Howe, of Central Florida, wrote his people, and among other things in this gracious letter said,

"There was a very unkind article in USA Today yesterday about Bishop Schori regarding this. {The lack of consents for Fr. Lawrence's election} However, Bishop Ed Salmon (retired and acting Bishop of South Carolina) assured us tonight that Bishop Schori "bent over backward" to get this election ratified, and the problem was with the Standing Committees. A sufficient number actually was received, but some of them were in improper form, and some of them were unsigned."


I would hope that puts to rest the great deal of teeth grinding that accompanied the announcement of the declaration that the election was null and void (language from the Canons).

I have had nothing to say about the end of this particular election process, since the details were somewhat murky, and I had no particular interest in who is to blame and the confidence that it was not the Presiding Bishop's office.

The 120 days for receiving the letters of consent from Bishops and the required forms from Standing Committees gives sufficient time for consideration. I wonder if we might want to change the canons on this and stipulate that once a vote of the Standing Committee or the letter of a Bishop has been submitted to the Standing Committee or the Presiding Bishop it cannot be rescinded. That would still give sufficient time for submission of consents but no reconsideration of what had been done.

Any thoughts on this?

20 comments:

  1. The current system seems a bit bizarre in the way it leaves the Standing Committees susceptible to eleventh-hour arm-twisting. Do we really want important issues decided under the pressure of last-minute web and phone campaigns pressing the SC's to change their votes? 120 days seems plenty of time for a committee to make up its collective mind. Once done, that should be the end of it. I say "no changies."

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  2. Considering that pieces of the Primate's Communique are currently scattered over some 400 square miles of Texas territory, hasn't this issue been rendered moot? TEC has chosen its path. South Carolina will choose as well.

    carl

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  3. Mark,

    Bishop Howe's letter was remarkable. Something truly incredible happened in the House of Bishops these past few days.

    Initially, I have mixed feelings about your suggestion. It does seem at first to make sense as one way to help forestall the debacle we just witnessed from happening again.

    But I can also fairly easily imagine a consent process in which SC's might make a decision and evidence later comes to light, within the 120-day period, that gives them just cause to rescind their decision.

    Probably, the most likely hypothetical case is that such evidence would be negative. That is, something might come to light pointing to gross impropriety on a bishop-elect's part or a glaring election irregularity that would undermine the process. The SC's (and possibly the bishops) might then want to rescind their consents.

    I think it's healthy to leave the door open to rescinding consents within the allotted period. We all know many scandals take time to come to light.

    It's certainly better in my mind to have the possibility of rescinded consents, while risking another rare close call in a politically/theologically heated election, than watching a truly scandal-ridden bishop be consecrated under a cloud, and his or her ministry crash, pastorally at least, before it even begins.

    This ugly scenario, while also rare, is potentially more destructive, it seems to me, especially given the difficulties and expense of removing duly elected bishops from office. . .more destructive than an election that misses sufficient consents for reasons of vacillation but that can be less expensively re-cast.

    What we just witnessed in South Carolina's case truly is quite rare. I think the suggestion to try to forestall it by making consents one-time and permanent would only become truly necessary if we saw a series of close consents end on a technicality of canonical procedure, as this one just did.

    Gee, that was a fun thought exercise. Probably not good food for fare on the floor of GC. But all offered IMHO at a late hour, as I might be missing something in the canons that address my concerns in other ways. :)

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  4. I agree that having standing committees change their votes is strange, and it is one of the matters I commented on in my own blog post “Reflections on the Mark Lawrence Affair.” I also argued that, in this electronic age, we not only don’t need 123 days, we don’t even need 120 days for bishops and standing committees to respond. In fact, standing committees knew about Mark Lawrence’s election for nearly six months before they were required to vote.

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  5. Bill Carroll22/3/07 8:12 AM

    Thank you, Bishop Howe.

    I don't think the canons really condone the possibility of changing one's "no" vote. One should only vote "no," if there are compelling doubts about the suitability of a bishop-elect, as there were with Fr. Lawrence.

    The canons on this point are ambiguous and this ambiguity should be removed. The canons should be amended to require the testimonials of election to be mailed within three days of the election and the 120 days should begin on the day of the election.

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  6. r- said "...Bishop Howe's letter was remarkable. Something truly incredible happened in the House of Bishops these past few days."

    I'm going to speculate that the Bishops got a clear presentation on the intentions and strategy of the Duncanites to "replace" TEC in the AC and take its property, and how the PV Scheme fits nicely into to that plan.

    Once exposed for all to see to together - perhaps the ground shifted and those who felt a duty and loyalty to TEC were appalled. And a reexamination of what was intended or desired by some who wanted alternative oversight of some sort, but not the rest of the scheme.

    Hence the "overwhelming" passage of the first two resolutions to reject the Primates PV Scheme.

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  8. I'll gladly defer to Bill Carroll and other more learned judgments on this one. Apologies for my overwrought "hypothetical" comment, but my second question still remains:

    Do we really anticipate the rare situation in South Carolina happening again any time soon, and with greater frequency? If not, do the canons really need to be changed, or just more assiduously implemented?

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  9. I became aware of John Howe before I became Episcopalian, and have thought since "I'll never see Jesus there." A lesson to me, beloveds, that saying "never" is a bad idea when on this Ground, for it has just happened while reading this over at Fr. Jake's.

    Thank you, Bishop Katharine, Bishop Howe, and thanks be to the God who called you to this ministry, and Who draws us all to his Resurrection life.

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  10. I am not sure if there is anything wrong with the present system other than that it requires the people involved to know the rules and act accordingly.

    I think the 120 day period allows for a number of things. It permits the Standing Committee of a diocese that is small in population but large in area to get together for a vote without imposing significant stress on the schedules of busy members.

    This length of time also allows for reflection so that votes can be taken after prayer and thought and not just as a reflex action.

    A period that lasts 120 days also allows for the kind of dialog that we saw in the South Carolina case where Mark Lawrence was ultimately able to satisfy the objections of a number of his critics. I think this process was good and the ability to change a vote already taken is critical to this process.

    The problem was purely and simply that some of the Standing Committees didn't bother to follow the rules. They seem to need a set of instructions, or perhaps a good lawyer, to help them in this task.

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  11. In Bishop Howe's full statement he says:

    "[The PB] is responsible for episcopal consecrations, for visiting every diocese at least once within her nine year term, and for the canonical discipline of Bishops. She said that the first two of these responsibilities can be delegated, and she is willing to do so.

    The third cannot. (As I have told you previously, I have regretted the use of the terminology of “Alternative Primatial Oversight” within the “Appeal” from our Diocese since we made it - for precisely this reason. What we are really concerned about is protecting our relationship to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and our continuing “full constituent membership” in the Anglican Communion.)

    Anyone have any idea what he is getting at here. "Regretted the use of terminology" What type of oversight did/does he want? And when?

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  12. I can see Richard's point about changing a "yes" to a "no."

    I suppose that should still be possible...although, if push came to shove and the impediment were bad enough, you could probably just depose the person from the priesthood.

    Changing a "no" to a "yes" should be impossible, in my view.

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  13. I agree that SC should be accountable for their votes and once cast, they remain as cast.

    I am still shocked that people who feel +VGR is appropriate for NH feel that Lawrence+ was not appropriate for South Carolina. The most convincing argument I heard was about what he "might" do. Fr Lawrence is a great leader whom many can learn from. If he agrees to be nominated again, I pray this mess can be cleaned up.

    Steve Hilliker

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  14. C. B.,

    Perhaps "alternative" was too strong (suggesting a substitute -- accountable to whom?) and "delegated" would have been more appropriate?

    This might make sense, given Bishop Howe's conciliatory's words to Bishop Jefferts Schori. And it jives better with the delegated pastoral oversight for local congregations already suggested . .

    My guess, at least.

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  15. I wish I felt as sanguine about Bishop Howe's letter as you guys do. I would like to say it's wonderful, since I'm in his Diocese. I've been reading the letter over the past few days, and it seems like more semantics. He hasn't given up on APO, he would just like different terminology. He's still ready to call himself Anglican rather than Episcopalian, and I wonder if he's waiting for the ABC to declare TEC out of Communion so Howe can say, "Aha. Now we true Anglican believers are the real church in America, and TEC is out."

    Despite his praise of Bishop Schori, Bishop Howe still hasn't invited her (or "dis-disinited) her to Central Florida.

    I wonder why his letter hasn't been posted on the diocesan Web site? I've seen them posted pretty quickly before, but this one hasn't appeared as I write this; neither has this "sky is falling" letter from the Diocese of Central Florida, that's been floating around for a week now, and I wonder, what gives? I'm hoping you can shed some light on this.

    Here's the March 15 letter:


    A Statement by the Standing Committee and Diocesan Board of the Diocese of Central Florida

    [via e-mail]

    March 15, 2007

    To the Bishops of the Episcopal Church

    Grace and Peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Be encouraged in the faith that has once been handed down to us by the apostles.

    The matters before your House in its meetings leading up to the September 30th deadline have risen to a critical level for our common life. For this reason we feel compelled to share our deepest convictions regarding these matters as the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee of the Diocese of Central Florida.

    With the Primates’ Communiqu� from Dar es Salaam the issues of permitting same-sex unions and consecrations of non-celibate homosexual clergy have become matters which could permanently alter the nature and structure of the Anglican Communion. This is no longer about continued dialogue and nuance. The questions before the House are clear and concrete and call for your “unequivocal” submission to our common life in the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church. There is no room for equivocating and parsing.

    The Primates have now definitively clarified the received teaching of this Church regarding these matters to be Lambeth 1:10. They have also provided the Bishops of the Episcopal Church with a minimum threshold commitment for continued membership in the Communion. Because of the Episcopal Church’s constitutional commitments of constituent membership in the Anglican Communion, conformity to that received teaching is no longer optional. Failure to agree with the demands of the Communiqu� will have lasting and dire consequences regarding our continued constituent membership in the Anglican Communion.

    A failure to provide an unequivocal answer on the part of the House of Bishops will signal your intention to “walk apart” from the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church.

    As a Network Diocese, we will not separate ourselves from the faithful and orthodox expression of Anglicanism in America. We will continue to stand firmly with those in the Communion who have not revised the faith on such important matters. In the end, a failure on your part to agree to the demands of the Communiqu� may well lead to formal division within The Episcopal Church, a situation which would deeply sadden all concerned.

    Please know that we do not make such statements lightly and without prayerful consideration. We are deeply concerned about our beloved Episcopal Church and its future health in terms of its ability to faithfully spread the Gospel of God’s redeeming love and forgiveness.

    In the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, “It isn’t a question of throwing people into outer darkness, but of recognizing that actions have consequences – and that actions believed in good faith to be ‘prophetic’ in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences.”

    In the end, each of you, as bishops of the Church, are individually accountable to what has been given to you. You are called to be good stewards of the treasure which is the Body of Christ, and not to squander it on unscriptural notions and interpretations of what does and does not constitute justice.

    The stakes have never been higher. You will never be engaged in a more crucial deliberation than the one before you now. Your choices will have consequences which will echo through time and potentially change the face of The Episcopal Church forever. We therefore urge you, in the strongest possible terms to honor the Communiqu� and accede to its clear call for an unequivocal statement of obedience to its demands.

    Individually and corporately we pledge our fervent daily prayers for you as you hold these important meetings.

    The Standing Committee and Diocesan Board of the Diocese of Central Florida.

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  16. P.S. -- but I really hope I'm wrong, and this isn't just making nice and putting on a smiling political face, while all sorts of machinations go on behind closed door.

    I'm praying I'm wrong.

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  17. I tend to agree with those who say that standing committees should be free to change or rescind their consents. Yes, it does leave them exposed to lobbying by partisans. But I suppose a standing committee that felt itself under duress could do a characteristically anglican muddle, such as submitting a cononically defective consent . . . .

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  18. "The Primates have now definitively clarified the received teaching of this Church regarding these matters to be Lambeth 1:10."

    On what authority? The "primates" are not a council of the church in the sense Nicea was, nor are they elected as our General Convention is.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  19. I would love to see a definitive statement on how Canon III.11.4 (a) is currently interpreted by the PB’s office. I’m no canon lawyer, but it appears to me that:

    1. All SC’s are required to provide, within 120 days, written notice of either consent or refusal; and
    2. There is no provision made for changing the vote once the written notice is issued.

    It would seem, then, that under the existing canon there is no obvious way to change a “yes, ” once written notice is issued, to a “no.” I have read reports indicating that if a committee issues more than one written notice, the one bearing the latest date is accepted. If true, this seems to me to be a remarkably loose interpretation of the canon. The language in III.11.5 suggests that a consent issued at any time during the 120 days is binding.

    It is quite possible, however, for a committee meet and decide not to issue written notice at all. This has the same effect as a “no,” but is not a binding decision. At any time within the 120 day consent period, they can meet again and decide to issue written notice of consent. This is, I believe, what actually happened in the cases where a reported “no” was later changed to a “yes.” If I am wrong in this, I would be glad to hear from anyone who has information to the contrary.

    I certainly hope, as Richard suggests, that it will be a long while before we again experience such a close and messy consent process. It is, however, almost certain to happen again at some point. It’s better, I think, to review the process now while the points of concern are fresh in our minds.

    Perhaps what we need is an absentee ballot system: standardized forms sent from 815, to be filled out, sealed and returned directly to 815 by the stated date. One ballot to each SC, to be voted at a time of their choosing within the consent period. Ballots to remain sealed until the consent period is closed. It would take a lot of the excitement out of the process, but maybe that’s a good thing. I'd like to see our collective attention focused on the suitability of the bishop-elect, rather than on the process.

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  20. I am still shocked that people who feel +VGR is appropriate for NH feel that Lawrence+ was not appropriate for South Carolina.

    Steve Hilliker: appropriate for whom in SC?

    If the answer had been "appropriate for Episcopalians committed to the Episcopal Church in SC", we wouldn't be having this particular exchange now (because Lawrence+ would have gotten WELL ABOVE the minimum # of consents)

    Re Round 2 w/ Lawrence (presuming there is one): "Thy Will Be Done, Lord!"

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