3/07/2007

Which is it? Has Bishop Bena abandoned ship or not?

Bishop Bena wrote Bishop Love, the diocesan of the Diocese of Albany. In that letter he said,
  1. "In January I requested Bishop Herzog to grant me a Letter Dimissory to the Province of Nigeria. This he did, and the Letter was formally received by Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate, to become effective after my retirement
  2. Since I have now been transferred from one Province in Communion with the See of Canterbury to another Province in Communion with the See of Canterbury, I am neither renouncing my Orders as a Bishop, nor am I abandoning the Communion of the Church."
Bishop Bena believes that what makes us part of the Anglican Communion is that we are in communion with the See of Canterbury, so he continues as a bishop in the Anglican Communion. I agree (not that that matters much in the scheme of things.)

What Bishop Bena does not point out is that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is not in communion with The Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Nigeria will not receive communion with the Presiding Bishop. He has publicly stated that the two Provinces are not in communion. He refused to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee of the Primates and the ACC in 2004. His office reported, "Archbishop Akinola is baffled that the Anglican Communion Office (ACO) continues to act as if what ECUSA did does not really matter," said the Venerable Oluranti Odubogun, the General Secretary of the Church of Nigeria, who also re-affirmed earlier statements from the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) that condemned the US Church for Bishop Robinson's consecration. "By carrying out the consecration of Bishop Robinson ECUSA has 'removed itself from the fellowship of the Communion.'" The Archbishop understands communion with the Episcopal Church to be broken.

So, which is it? The CofN is not in communion with TEC. Both CofN and TEC are in communion with Canterbury. To leave one church in the Anglican Communion to work in another is a lateral move of "transfer" if the two churches are in communion. working with one is not the abandonment of the other. But if the two are not in communion, leaving the one to work with the other is to abandon the one for the other.

Bishop Bena has withdrawn from this Church and joined another not in communion with us. I believe that means that unless there is special exception made he is no longer a member of this House of Bishops, and therefor no longer a bishop in this Church.

He certainly is a bishop, he has not renounced his orders, he has not abandoned the Church. But he no longer holds any office in this Church, and he has abandoned the ministry of this Church.

What do you think? (I may regret having asked...)

24 comments:

  1. Mark,
    As in many thinks, I think you are correct. he can't have it both ways. Or, put another way, you can't be a bishop in the CON and a Bishop in TEC at the sametime unless ecclisiastical bi-location is a new option.

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  2. Certainly, I think he's changed ships (I won't say he "jumped," since he has retired and at least made some pretence of seeking recognition from his ecclesial authority). The argument is, of course, how big is our ship? Or, are we even in the same fleet? (I would also suggest we don't want to speak of "abandoning ship" because this ship of the Episcopal Church isn't sinking, as serious as the attacks have been.)

    I would argue (have argued at http://episcopalhospitalchaplain.blogspot.com/2006/08/church-whole-church-and-nothing-but.html) that when we speak of electing bishops for "the whole church," any meaning beyond the Episcopal Church is a matter of eschatological hope. We can't see any other meaning of electing for "the whole church" until the Church is actually whole (an eschatological hope if ever there was one). Ironically, our Episcopal bishops are "recognized" as bishops in other communions, and even in other provinces of the Anglican Communion, in much the same way that General Convention on 2003 "recognized" that same-sex blessings were occurring. Such "recognition" has as much meaning, and only as much meaning, as is demonstrated in practice. So, some would recognize Bishop Bena as elected for "the whole church," while not recognizing Bishop Roskam.

    Eschatological hope of "the whole church" for which bishops might be elected is different from institutional structures in this perpetual Pentecost between the Resurrection and the Second Coming. In the meantime, and while we wait for fulfillment, we can only "recognize" that Bishop Bena has changed from one real and meaningful institutional structure to another; ergo, he has changed ships.

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  3. Has he really changed ships? Just because the Church in Nigeria says they are not in communion with TEC, does not mean TEC is not in communion with them. I am not aware of TEC creaking ties with them, only that they broke ties with us. That is like a half break. Iss this wrong, or is my thinking skewed.

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  4. We can end the debate by deposing him, can't we? I have no idea what +Herzog was thinking, granting him Letters Dismissory to Nigeria, but we should correct that mistake.

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  5. If the good Bishop Bena is so horrified with TEC that he must leave it, one wonders why he is so intent on preserving his privileges within it.

    In his attempt to have it both ways, he has misconstrued the relevant canon. There is no language in Canon IV.9 which allows a bishop to avoid inhibition and deposition by virtue of serving in a church which is in communion with the See of Canterbury. Canterbury is, e.g., in a relationship of full communion with the Church of Sweden and other Nordic churches of the Porvoo Communion, but those churches are not thereby in communion with TEC.

    The canonical standard is that any exercise of Episcopal acts “in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church” constitutes abandonment of this church (IV.9.1).

    Since Bishop Bena has chosen to be admitted to, and (one assumes) to exercise his episcopal office within, a church whose primate has declared our relationship of full communion to be broken, he is clearly subject to inhibition.

    It is the duty of the Review Committee to so certify to the Presiding Bishop. Whether they will do so, however, is as much a political as a canonical question.

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  6. If the good bishop is so horrified with TEC that he must leave it, one wonders why he is so intent on preserving his privileges within it.

    In his attempt to have it both ways, he has misconstrued the relevant canon. There is no language in Canon IV.9 which allows a bishop to avoid inhibition and deposition by virtue of serving in a church which is in communion with the See of Canterbury. Canterbury is, e.g., in a relationship of full communion with the Church of Sweden and other Nordic churches of the Porvoo Communion, but those churches are not thereby in communion with TEC.

    The canonical standard is that any exercise of Episcopal acts “in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church” constitutes abandonment of this church (IV.9.1).

    Since Bishop Bena has chosen to be admitted to, and to exercise his episcopal office within, a church whose primate has declared our relationship of full communion to be broken, he is clearly subject to inhibition. It is the duty of the Review Committee to so certify to the Presiding Bishop. Whether they will do so, however, is as much a political as a canonical question.

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  7. By a plain and literal reading of the canon (IV.9.1.) Bena has "abandoned the communion of this Church" by his admission into a "body not in communion with the same." The issue is Nigeria: are they in communion with us, or not. If not, then the canon applies. Regardless of Bena's protestations. Being in Communion with the See of Canterbury is not germane to the issue -- not all churches in Communion with the See of Canterbury are in Communion with TEC (Baltic Lutherans, for example.)

    However, isn't this moot, to a certain extent, since by the transfer (if CoN were still in communion with TEC) he still wouldn't be a TEC bishop any more.

    And btw, Bishop Bena, it's "abandoning the communion of this Church." That you have done.

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  8. It seems to me, and I am not a canon lawyer (praise God!) that while Bp. Bena certainly remains a bishop, he has clearly by requesting and receiving letters dismissiory, left TEC. Now his ordinary may not see fit to do anything else, and that is fine. But he **has** dismissed him. As such, he clearly has left the house of bishops.

    Or so I think.

    I suppose that +Katherine will have to rule on that if he shows up at a meeting. Regardless of how she rules, one can expect an appeal to the entire house.

    What a mess!

    FWIW
    jimB

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  9. I agree that Bishop Bena is no longer a member of TECUSA's House of Bishops. He had is Letters Dimissory transfered to CONAC.

    I do not think he should be "deposed" for having left the communion of this Church. Letters were sent and received. Should the Primatial Vicar scheme be put in place and CANA rejoin TECUSA through the PV PDQ (and any other acronyms I can come up with), then Bena (and the other bishops, priests, and deacons) would (presumably) have their Letters Dimissory transferred back to the PV or to the ordinary of their respective dioceses.

    +Akinola is not actually out of communion with all of TECUSA (as witnessed by his receiving LD from +Herzog). He is in communion with the "Windsor Bishops" but not with those who are not implimenting the recommendations of the Windsor Report/process.

    YBIC,
    Phil Snyder

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  10. dr james:

    My comment is perhaps exacerbated by the decision of the Church of Nigeria that communion is broken; but it isn't really changed. Prior to any difficulties, Bishop Bena could still only have offered episcopal ministry in the Church of Nigeria only within their Consitution and Canons, and thus only after some official recognition (even if that were as simple as the invitation of a parish priest). Certainly, he could not have functioned as a bishop for the Church of Nigeria without some official action of Nigeria.

    The fact that he made some effort at "due process" is Bishop Bena's own acknowledgement that the Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria are separate institutions, whatever their common heritage and (once) common ministries. So, even if we are still, as it were, in the same fleet (a status Nigeria has rejected), he is not in the same ship.

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  11. I agree with you and Barbara. He can't be a bishop in both TEC and CofN at the same time. This has nothing to do with the whether or not TEC and CofN are in communion.

    Allen

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  12. He should have to drink their water.

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  13. Mark:

    It seems fair enough to me, at least until CANA, AMiA and ECUSA get rolled back up into one Anglican expression in the US (as seems to be one of the hopes of the Primates' Communique which gets buried by other headlines). For now, Bishop Bena has a seat in the Nigerian HOB.

    Peace,
    JB

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  14. The Living Church says: "Many diocesan bishops of The Episcopal Church have deposed without trial clergy who have sought to transfer to other churches in communion with the See of Canterbury while continuing their ministry in the U.S. The canonical disciplinary procedures for bishops would appear to preclude that option, as formal ecclesiastical proceedings would be time consuming, expensive and risk further irritating international relations."

    So, then, the canons should only be enforced when it can be done quickly, cheaply and without controversy??

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  15. To ask a somewhat crass question:

    Is he still collecting a pension from the Church Pension Fund of The Episcopal Church? Does he continue to be eligible for pension and benefits if he has "renounced" the Episcopal Church?

    If the Church Pension Fund's charter is to support The Episcopal Church and its ministry - by supporting Episcopal Church clergy, should they also keep paying Christmas benefits to those who have 'dissed TEC?

    This moves me to another question, if priests leave The Episcopal church within just months or a year or two of being ordained, will they need to pay back seminary grants, financial aid, housing subsidies, etc. that were received under the good faith agreement that they would work in The Episcopal Church as an ordained person.

    ---

    Of course, this may sound sordid and all that, however, law suits are commencing and the money involved is HUGE! It seems that TEC, its Pension Fund, and its seminaries (and granting organizations) have some fiduciary duty, and some stewardship responsibility over these funds...

    I am very curious about Bp. Minns and others with regard to the money!

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  16. Peter,

    It is not "your" money. The money on which Bishop Bena is drawing is his money. He put money into the pension fund for all the years of his ordained ministry and is now drawing out according to the rules of the fund.

    An anology from the business world might be in order. If I work for a company that provides a pension and work faithfully for that company until I retire, then I am due a pension. The company has not say in what I do after I retire (unless those rules are in place before I retire).

    Additionally, the Pension Fund monies cannot be used to instigate or fund lawsuits for property. They cannot even be used to accomplish MDGs. They are very limited in their scope.

    YBIC,
    Phil Snyder

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  17. By all means - depose him. Put to an end, once and for all, the illusion that TEC has any intention of remaining part of the AC. Do you think, even for one minute, that such a move will not reverberate throughout the rest of the Communion and that it will rupture, perhaps forever, the ties some are trying to maintain? Since I think we are already two separate and irreconcilable churches (but for divine intervention), the suggestion is a welcome one. Once it is weaned for the only thing TEC has to offer ($$$$), the rest of the Communion will be healthier and far better equipped to get on with the mission of the church.
    Dan

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  18. In response to Peter's questions.

    The Church Pension Fund is fully Federally Qualified and as such the standard vesting rules apply. A clergy or lay (some DRE's qualify I understand) person whose contributions are made and who fulfills the vesting rules gets the pension at the level appropriate based on the contributions. I have been told that no contributions can be made after a person leaves TEC but I do not know if that is so.

    In fact, I think we should want the pensions to continue. Bp. Bena, regardless of his views, earned the pension. It is his, and no one should threaten it. In fact, TEC does not.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  19. For plsdeacon...Actually, +Bena did NOT put the money in the pension fund. The churches he served put the money in the pension fund albeit in the expectation that it would benefit him.

    But there is a more important issue here: Letters Dimissory and how they are issued. You will note that, Canon David Andersen joined the diocese of Springfield in Feb. 2006 although actually working in Atlanta. He has just recently received letter dimissory from Bishop Beckwith to CANA?. Bishop Herzog clearly shares Bishop Bena's end of the theological spectrum and therefore provided him such a letter? By contrast, Bishop Lee has refused to issue letters dimissory to those Virginia congregations leaving for CANA. A couple of months ago I asked one of the writers at Episcopal News Service for an explanation of this process and she responded that she might address it if it became an issue. It clearly is something I don't understand. I am certainly unclear about whether a letter can be issued by a TEC bishop to a clergy person moving to a church not-in-communion with TEC as Nigeria has stated of itself. I would appreciate some enlightenment here. I have also wondered if the dioceses of Springfield, Quincy, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Ft. Worth etc. see themselves "in communion with" the church of Nigeria and, as parts of TEC, is it their prerogative to choose with whom they wish to be in communion or not? I'm thinking along the lines of the right to negotiate and enter into foreign treaties in the civil order? I can't find anything in the TEC Canons that seems to be on point in this?

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  20. Although the Church of Nigeria has declared that it is not in communion with TEC, TEC has not made that break mutual. From the TEC point of view, Bena has transferred from TEC to a church in communion, not that much differently than Mark McDonald did (to Canada). That in itself should not constitute abandonment. Having done so with the intent to minister to dissident congregations within TEC, however, is a less than honest and upright motive. But I don't see how he could be subject to presentment or discipline. (and it is of course crystal clear that he is no longer a member of the TEC House of Bishops).

    As to his pension, he has retired and presumably begun to draw a pension. He is fully entitled to that pension based on his past service.

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  21. I took a look at the letter linked to in post, and Bp Bena has no intention of moving to Nigeria, but instead plans to work with CANA! How we will have 2 bishops working for CANA. It makes me wonder when they will start fanning out across the country offering to conduct confirmations and ordinations!

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  22. Has TEC renounced communion with the Church of Nigeria? I don't recall that happening. During the Civil War the Episcopal Church (north) decided to mark the southern dioceses "absent" at the one General Convention they managed to hold during that war. Perhaps that is the sort of generous stance TEC takes now. As far as I know, TEC is still in communion with the Church of Nigeria - and of course, they are both in full Communion with Canterbury, at least until September.

    bb

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  23. Thanks for the comments folks: I found Dan (aka anonymous), jim pratt and babyblue convinced me that the way to approach this is to say that Bishop Bena (i)remains, of course, a bishop, (ii) is retired and has no actual jurisdiction in the Episcopal Church, (iii) has a pension that is in no way compromised by his going to the CofN, (iv)has become a member of the CofN, (v)and will be part of an expanding college of bishops for CANA an effort of CofN. OK.

    What then?
    (a) TEC is still, from our side, in communion with the CofN, although CofN is not, at least with the whole of TEC. (b)We in no way should suggest Bishop Bena's going to the CofN is to be questioned as abandoning the Christian faith (and I certainly have never suggested that.) (c)We should make it clear that he has given up his seat in TEC House of Bishops. (d) Because he has joined a church that is not in communion with us (although we are with the CofN) he has done one of those , "as for me" statements - and has disassociated with TEC. (e) He has, in the Canonical sense, abandoned the Communion of this Church. The canons that apply (IV.9) give three reasons for determining that a bishop has abandoned the Communion of this Church: (i)open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, (ii) formal admission into any religious body not in communion with this church, and (iii) exercising episcopal acts in and ofr a religious body ... extending to such body Holy Orders as this church holds them or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation ...wthout express consent etc... (I have abbreviated the wording).

    Bishop Bena could be called to account on all three points: he left TEC in disagreement with the actions of TEC; he joined a church not in communion with us (at least as far as the actions of its Primate indicated); one supposes he intends to take part in ordinations and confirmations in various dioceses of TEC without seeking permission of the Diocesan or the House of Bishops.

    My sense is that a good case can be made for saying that Bishop Bena, according to our canons,has abandoned the communion of this Church.

    There may be no reason to push the case, given the oddity of being in communion with a church not in communion with us(sort of like going to Rome, only with his orders intact.)

    I think we should be clear that he, like Elvis, has left the building... He is no longer a bishop of this Church. But like Elvis, there will be sightings here and there. He has not left the territorial jurisdiction of this Church. He is now, like Bishop Minns, working with missionary zeal to promote the real Anglican presence in the US, as opposed to the work of TEC. I read that as abandonment of TEC for something else.

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  24. Mark,
    You might want to add, that as a bishop of the Church of Nigeria presumably intending to exercise episcopal ministry within the United States, he his (or will be) in violation of the recommendations (which seem to have been raised to quasi-legal status) of the Windsor Report.

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