11/01/2007

Bishops, accountability and Title IV

There are times when following the story of the Episcopal Church in these difficult times of internal strife and ecclesial invasion from without gets a bit complex. Matters are made all the more difficult when these take place against the background of the slow and painful demise of the American Empire. So it takes a bit of doing to get a grip on what is happening in The Episcopal Church these days.

Reference to "Title IV" of the Canons of the Episcopal Church is not usually newsworthy. In the past week, however, Title IV has come up on several occasions:
(i) At Executive Council the issue of costs related to various legal matters growing out of Title IV concerns was raised.
(ii) Bishop Bennison of Pennsylvania has been inhibited pending the review by the Title IV review committee.
(iii) Bishop Robert Duncan has been warned that if he and the Diocese of Pittsburgh change their constitution so that unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church is assured, he might well be understood to have abandoned the communion of this church, under Title IV.

Title IV of the Canons of the Episocpal Church covers matters of ecclesiastical discipline. In Bishop Bennison's case, matters of conduct in relation to his pastoral responsibilities, in the matter of the clergy and bishops aligning with other provinces or denying their oaths of obedience, their ecclesial responsibilities.

The property issues arise from another canon, Title I 7 4.1. But those issues intersect with Title IV issues when it is by virtue of the abandonment of the communion of this Church that the claim is made by the leaving bishop or clergy that they continue to have the right of use of the facilities they held while part of The Episcopal Church.

The problem is that the keys continue to be in the hands of the now deposed or otherwise absent clergy. Getting the keys back takes place against the background of the rights of the clergy, which arose as a matter of right by their inclusion in the clergy of this church.

In Bishop Bennison's case he has had the keys taken away from him by inhibition. In Bishop Duncan's case it appears the Church is saying that if it is shown that he has abandoned the communion of this Church, the Church will demand the keys back.

Regrettably there is considerable history concerning the need for inhibition. Bishop Bennison may or may not finally be cleared or convicted; for the moment he is inhibited.

There are some instances of the interplay between property issues and clerical abandonment of the communion of this Church, some involving bishops. Most notable in recent years has been the case of the now deposed bishop of Central Ecuador. Bishop
Neptali Larrea was deposed following his abandonment of the church amidst charges of financial mismanagement. He subsequently took with him much of the real property of the Diocese and over the past several years the Diocese has recovered much of what was taken.

As with all clergy, Bishops are to be held to account both for their pastoral and managerial actions and for their ecclesial oaths taken at the time of their ordination. The actions by the Episcopal Church in both these cases is a matter of attending to accountability.

Attending to these matters is expensive and church members have every reason to want to know just what it costs to follow through with the litigation related to bringing people to account. Some of this is spoken to in a recent posting of The Episcopal News Service. But we must at the same time realize that the cost of not holding people accountable would lead to an abandonment by the Church of pastoral, ecclesial, managerial and fiduciary responsibility .

The matter most important, of course, is the accountability we have to the Lord Jesus Christ, one which is beyond the purview of any canon. At one time or another those held accountable on other matters have laid claim to this greater accountability. When the church has none the less demanded the person cease functioning as a member of the clergy (inhibition) or has asserted that the person has abandoned the communion of this Church, the only recourse has been to leave, claiming the higher ground.

Which is why all temporal judgment is subject to divine judgment. But that is, indeed, a matter for another day. Suffice to say that on that day the judgment of the comparative silence of the Church on matters of accountability in the last days of the American Empire will make judgment of the Church's actions re Title IV seems pale by comparison. Still, there is reason to suppose that if we are persistent in small matters we might also be persistent in great ones.



14 comments:

  1. Mark,

    Thanks for this helpful discussion and description of where we are in terms of Title IV and how this impacts these two bishops in Pennsylvania, and their respective dioceses. As a transitional deacon canonically resident in the Diocese of Pennsylvania the news has some key personal aspects as well (like, who will be ordaining me...?)?

    Anyway, I appreciate your description and reflections.

    Peace,

    Rev. Peter Carey

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  2. "Charged" is a technical term here. When you say it is not clear if Bennison will be finally charged, you are quite incorrect.

    The charge happened when the complaint was made against him to the Presiding Bishop. The presentment has been issued as well, as fully and finally as it can possibly be.

    Perhaps you mean it is unclear whether he will be sentenced. Indeed, a trial remains to be held. But that he has been charged, and presented, is as clear as can be. It was, indeed, the presentment which led to the inhibition: in the Episcopal Church a (non-temporary) Inhibition can issue only after a presentment, or a civil court judgment.

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  3. Meanwhile -- in the pew where it REALLY matters:

    More disgust as the media shines the light on the insane treatment of the Church by her leaders. A Church with dwindling Sunday attendance and 1.8 Million in monetary shortfall finds it vital to continue to alienate its members and to spend millions in legal fees chasing objectors through the courts. Once 815 DOES get the properties they will get mostly vacated sites with heavy indebtedness and little to no congregation to survive. Maybe more bake sales from the ivory tower commentators would help.
    This insanity will go down in history as the worst greed of a Christian denomination: property mattering more than people. After all, we have the luxury to part with thousands who don't agree with "us". Right?

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  4. Thomas...got it. Changed it. Thanks. You are absolutely correct on this one.

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  5. Allen - If the property is so unimportant, then quite quibbling over the property, and GO!

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  6. Marc,

    My ancestors SACRIFICED, DID WITHOUT, WORKED and SUPPORTED the building, furnishing, repairing, and extending of two church buildings. Unworthy prelates and their acolytes now show up and change the faith and order of the Church and say glibly, "If you don't like it - leave". Any atheist on the street will tell you how WRONG that is. For you not to see it shows how far gone this Church is....property & income comes before people in ALL CASES in the mind of 815 and its supporters.

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  7. On the contrary, Allen. On the property issues, they are *Episcopal* churches, also supported by the faith, sacrifice, energy, commitment, money, and blood, sweat, and tears of those (current and past) who wish to remain Episcopalians in what is every bit as legitimately *their* church. Those who do not wish to be Episcopalians any more have no more right to keep an Episcopal church than the man in the moon. There would be no property issues/disputes if the folks who don't want to be Episcopalians any more had any integrity and left *Episcopal* churches with *Episcopalians*

    It is not just about property for property's sake, Allen; it is sacred (and consecrated) space specifically for those faithful to proclaiming the good news of Jesus in a particular tradition. No one wants the innovations of your "new thing" (whether Network or Common Cause or Anglican Covenant or any other screwy manifestation) that would change the very character of Anglicanism from what has been an incalcuable and unique gift to God in Christendon for nearly 500 years. For you not to see this only shows how deep is your lack of understanding of the Christian faith as expressed in Anglicanism for centuries.

    Rectors, vestries, members of a congregation: none are *owners* of the church, Allen; we are *stewards*. Bottom line, you can't keep what doesn't belong to you. There's a word for that and Jesus spoke pretty clearly about it. For you not to recognize that shows how shallow is your understanding of faith once delivered to those who would call Jesus Lord.

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  8. Another word on the subject:

    In addition to the sacrifice of ancestors there is the same sacrificial efforts by we moderns. Many of us in our church have done without, delayed home improvements, and drive older cars because we want the Lord honored in tangible ways, including a fit House of worship to be a witness in the community. All of this took place 60 + years before the claims of the Dennis Canon. No diocesan funds have been applied for or disbursed in these efforts. When or if the 815 usurpers attempt to put us on the street as a "silly minority" we will leave a loud and vocal stain in the public eye. No amount of P.R. or "deeds evangelism" will convince the general public that the Episcopal Church is worth the effort. Certainly not worth investing time and treasure in.

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  9. Allen, I am curious about how these "unworthy prelates and their acolytes" have managed to take over the Episcopal Church lock, stock and barrel over the objections of the "conservative" faithful.

    Three possibilities come to mind.

    1. The "liberals" are very devious and have managed to hide their true agenda, thus winning election as parish delegates to diocesan conventions and as diocesan deputies to general convention, not to mention episcopal elections in dioceses. Seems unlikely, since you "conservatives" have been railing about the "liberals" for 40+ years already.

    2. The "conservatives" are simply so feckless that they couldn't organize a bad smell from a skunk's backside, let alone organizing themselves well enough to elect "conservative" convention delegates, "conservative" deputies and "conservative" bishops. Seems unlikely since the "conservative" movement has shown itself surprisingly adept in other venues such as the Rovian use of wedge issues to win national elections, or the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    3. The "liberal" leadership of the Episcopal Church is broadly representative of the membership of the Episcopal Church. Since this possibility requires the least mental gymnastics, strikes me as the most likely.

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  10. Allen:

    I'm pretty sure that what was given to build that church was a free-will offering. This is not Germany (where you are taxed according to your religion, like it or not). So that the gifts you speak of came with no strings attached.

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  11. I'm equally sure that if the donors knew what was leading this Church they would have kept their gifts to themselves....like what is happening all over the Church right now.

    The implied contract of loyalty only works when the faith and order of the Church isn't redefined by the whim of culture and the nihilistic tendencies of the seminaries, and General Convention (under pressure from lobbyists). Seems that people are only good little laity if they pay the bills and keep their mouths shut: "lay back and think of 815".

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  12. allen,
    1. General Convention is democratically elected.
    2. The seminaries do a wonderful job of educating our clergy.
    3. The Episcopal Church is now courageously witnessing AGAINST the culture which is and has always been sexist and homophobic.
    4. You are not the only person with ancestors.
    5. There are plenty of fundamentalist churches where I'm sure you would be very happy.

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  13. Anonymous,

    As a true liberal you speed quickly to presumption. You don't know my church, community, diocese, etc. It will disturb you, but look at giving trends, average Sunday attendance, and membership growth. ALL ARE GOIN BACKWARDS - away from the enlightened agenda foisted by our "best minds". It will also disturb you to know that one can have convictions without being blindly fundamentalist. The whole Anglican world is telling you that you are wrong. You've hooked to apretty but tired horse that will drag you further into heresy and isolation. I won't join you.

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  14. allen
    Dear dear. What will you do when you get to heaven and find liberals there? Throw a snit, I suppose.

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