The Slow Grind: Holding Bishop Duncan Accountable (revised)

(Since first posting Tuesday one small correction and several additional helpful items have come to my attention. Thanks to Fr. Jake, Ann and the Living Church.)

The Bishop of Pittsburgh, The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, has been found by the Title IV Review Committee to have abandoned the Communion. The three senior bishops with jurisdiction who must concur are not in agreement. He is not therefore inhibited at this time although that is a distinct possibility that the House of Bishops will find him to have abandoned the Communion in the future anyway. Read the full story HERE. See Fr. Jake's take and clarification of the process HERE.

This slow process of holding the Bishop of Pittsburgh accountable for his actions is grinding slowly to its conclusion. Because it works its way slowly there will be ample opportunity for accusations of persecution and the hounding of dissenters to arise from all quarters of the Anglican Communion. Equally frustrated will be those who have believed that Bishop Duncan has clearly moved out of the communion of this Church and wish the Church would act justly and quickly.

But it appears that all of this will slowly grind through the first half of this year.

The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church are understood by few, hated by some and considered arcane by many, but there's one thing to say for them: they often allow for fairly nuanced distinctions in decision making. They also grind slowly.

The process in place for determining that a Bishop has abandoned the communion of this Church is complex and entails a variety of checks. The Presiding Bishop, the Title IV Review Committee and the three senior bishops with jurisdiction and finally the whole House of Bishops are involved. Interestingly very few lay persons or priests are consulted. But, it is what it is: an instrument of the Church's discipline that grinds slowly and makes fine distinctions.

The removal from the ministry is a judgment that is of value only to members of the faithful community that are willing to live by and with the promises they made at baptism and for the ordained at their ordination.

Bishop John David Schofield was inhibited just this week and has been given to understand that in two months he is subject to being deposed. He is arguing that none of this makes any difference, since he has left the Episcopal Church and joined the Province of the Southern Cone. But of course it makes a great deal of difference to him and to all of us. He came into the ordained ministry, into the office of bishop, having made a solemn vow to live with the judgments as well as the privileges that derived from his engagement in the ministry to which he was called. By not being willing to accept the disciplinary judgments of the Church in which he took those vows he is renouncing the vow he took.

It is immaterial whether or not he is still part of the Episcopal Church. He swore his willingness to conform to the discipline of the Church in which he exercised the office of bishop and in which he could be relieved of that office. He has now broken that vow.

The Title IV Review Committee and the three senior bishops with jurisdiction both agreed that Bishop Schofield ought to be inhibited and his case presented to the House of Bishops for their vote on his deposition. In his actions in defiance of that order of inhibition he is sealing the judgment.

Now Bishop Duncan has been charged by the Title IV Committee with abandonment of the communion of this Church. There has not been concurrence in this matter by the three senior bishops, but there are decisions still to be made by the House of Bishops as a whole. More to the point, the actions of Bishop Duncan in the coming months may or may not make the truth of the charge evident. The Presiding Bishop note that in her letter to Bishop Duncan, ""I would, however, welcome a statement by you within the next two months providing evidence that you once more consider yourself fully subject to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church."

The Presiding Bishop is giving Bishop Duncan the opportunity to affirm the vows he made as a bishop upon ordination. Unwillingness to do so is an indication that he too is traveling down the path laid out by Bishop Schofield and that the Review Committee was correct in their judgment. Willingness to do so would make inhibition, if it were to be imposed, a matter of safety for the Church until such time as the whole House of Bishops could decide the merits of the case. Willingness to do so would be a sign that perhaps the Review Committee's judgment was too severe.

Either way matters are not being put on hold until such time as the Diocese of Pittsburgh follows San Joaquin and votes to leave the Episcopal Church. This time the matter is at hand now. Does the Bishop of Pittsburgh intend to stand by the promises he made at his ordination or not? This is no longer about possibilities for the Diocese in the future. It is about whether or not the Bishop of Pittsburgh considers himself, and is considered by the House of Bishops, to be a member of this Church.

Slow, perhaps. But it is time for the Bishop of Pittsburgh to make his intentions clear and to be clearly accountable to the Church in which he derived commission and license as bishop.

Note: The Diocese of Pittsburgh site quotes Bishop Duncan as saying, “Few bishops have been more loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church. I have not abandoned the Communion of this Church. I will continue to serve and minister as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh."

It is time to read the report of the Title IV Committee in full.


  1. The process does not need concurrence by the senior bishops - it works exactly the same except that Duncan is not inhibited until the matter comes to the House of Bishops. At that time if a majority of bishops agree with the charge - the PB deposes him.

  2. The Presiding Bishop is giving Bishop Duncan the opportunity to affirm the vows he made as a bishop upon ordination. Unwillingness to do so is an indication that he too is traveling down the path laid out by Bishop Schofield and that the Review Committee was correct in their judgment. . . .

    Have you thought to look up what those actual vows were? Assuming ++Duncan was consecrated under the rubric of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, he swore to the following:

    "Are you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same?"

    Is there a majority in the HoB that is willing in all conscience to decide that ++Duncan has broken this vow by his actions? Would it not be rather more correct to say that in all his actions he has conscientiously striven to uphold this vow?

    Of course, one can also cite the following vow: " Will you . . . diligently exercise such discipline as by the authority of God's Word, and by the order of this Church, is committed to you?"

    However, the condition "by the order of this Church" is in the conjunctive, not the disjunctive: it has to also be "by the authority of God's Word." Can a majority of the HoB say that Scriptures "authorize" the consecration of persons such as ++VGR to the episcopate? (Note that this is not the same thing as saying that a majority of the HoB have authorized the election of ++VGR to the episcopate.) If so, what passage(s) would they cite for authority?

    In short, I think the case that ++Duncan has "abandoned the Communion of this Church" in the specific ways spelled out by the canons has not yet been proven.

  3. ann. Thanks for the nudge. I've made it clearer in the text.

    Alfrednorth. Bishop Duncan is not that old. He was ordained a long time after the 1979 BCP came into use.

  4. (Dan)
    Perhaps you would care to explain, Mark, why it is that a difference of opinion about what the canons permit or do not permit (i.e., whether a diocese can secede from TEC bearing in mind that so far, they have not left) is not to be tolerated when "toleration" seems to be the highest value embraced by TEC.

  5. Point taken, Mark, but I don't see how the 1979 Prayer Book vows should make any difference: should it be the case that conduct which is required by the 1928 vows should form the basis for a charge of abandonment under the 1979 vows? If so, TEC is really needs to take a long, hard look at where it is going.

  6. The answer to alfrednorth's question is obvious. Of course the majority of the House of Bishop believed that God's Word authorized them to approve his ordination to the episcopate. By their action they ruled him a godly person living a godly life.

    Others may (and do) disagree, but that was the bishops' judgment.

    It also seems perfectly obvious to me that Bishops Schofield, Duncan and Iker are daily defying the discipline of the church that they promised to uphold. Again, others may (and do) disagree.

  7. It would appear that the PB's Star Chamber maneuver has hit the wall. I'd also suspect that this will be a moot point by the date of the HOB meeting.


  8. alfrednorth-

    Exactly how are +duncans actions following the '28 PB?
    I don't see your rational.

  9. It is difficult to get one's mind around the idea that Bishop Duncan has abandoned the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church and Jack Spong hasn't. The truth, of course, is that the revisionist movement doesn't really want to be held accountable for their choices and must, therefore, excise the dissenting voices. For them God is doing a new thing . . .but only the new thing they want. It is not conceivable that the realignment might be a new thing. It is not conceivable to them that (as the Bishop of RI said) 'Maybe we did the wrong thing in 2003.' Nope. Gotta' cut out the dissent
    There is nothing keeping those entrusted with the power to initiate these (ridiculous) proceedings from working out a settlement, diocese by diocese or parish by parish. Nothing at all.
    FTG, for all his cosmic goofiness, at least tried to get this right.

  10. JOHN 2007 writes

    Here's the canon:

    "Sec. 1. If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, or (iii) by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church."

    Surely Duncan does not come under (ii) or (iii). So he must come under (i). Let's see, which of the three headings does he come under. He hasn't openly renounced any doctrine (let along, ahem, "core doctrine" if we revert to the convenient category created by the Righter trial). He hasn't openly renounced any of the worship of the Prayer Book or decided to worship in, say, a New Age way. So he must have 'openly renounced' the discipline of the church. Hmmmn. But how? Because he disagreed with votes of GC 2003? Well, then everyone who votes against something GC adopts should be accused of abandoning the discipline of the church even if, as in the case of Duncan, they are canonically clean. Strange.

    Not as strange as the way KJS talks about the faith and Jesus and God, but strange still the same.

  11. The comments I've read so far about this are hilarious!

    None of the so-called "orthodox" want to be part of the Episcopal Church any longer, or in any way under its authority - but when they're taken at their word about this and released from their vows, a cry of outrage arises to highest heaven. Amazing!

    Make up your minds, folks. Go, if you want to go. Or stay - but stop trying to undermine this church. Stop the extra-canonical consecrations. Stop trying to argue that attempting to form another Province to replace the Episcopal Church is equivalent to "banishing strange doctrine." Stop claiming that TEC is "no longer Christian."

    Less political maneuvering and more respectful discussion and argument would be a good start. It might have been nice if you had bothered to listen, and to join the discussion over the past 30 years, instead of ignoring and/or sneering at the gay people who were trying to talk with you.

  12. On August 30th, Anonymous, Duncan was a consecrating bishop at the episcopal ordinations of William Atwood and William Murdoch. The two bishops, technically consecrated for the Anglican Church of Kenya, which I believe has declared itself to be out of communion with TEC, were in reality consecrated to operate within the US as part of a separate church (which church, one now wonders, as the pieces now begin to wander freely across the board) and hierarchy.

    On December 9th he participated in the Virginia consecration of four new CANA bishops. CANA is not in communion with Canterbury, and therefore is not in communion with the Anglican Communion as a whole. The Church of Nigeria declares that it is out of communion with TEC.

    There is no question, therefore, that Duncan has actively participated in events that fall under subsection iii of the canon, "exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church".

  13. I really do have to wonder why the wrong wingers care. Bp Duncan clearly does not want to be numbered with us apostate, evil, (and here is the worst!) inclusive folk. He is much too holy.

    Abandonment does not mean he cannot become Ugandan. I am sure he will be at least as welcome as those ordained by Kenya whose ordination vows included not being active in Kenya. ;-)

    We are basically doing housekeeping here. They acted to leave, we are taking notice.


  14. obadiahslope17/1/08 6:07 AM

    While Nigeria has declared itself out of communion with TEC, I am unaware that TEC has responded by declaring itself out of communion with Nigeria.Similarly with Kenya.
    For the actions you describe to form "episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church". TEc would have to come to a view that it is out of communion with kenya or Nigeria, surely?

  15. Would you suggest that by anyone's accounting, TEC (and Canterbury) are in communion with CANA, Obadiahslope? Duncan has been a law unto himself - a bully, within and outside his diocese - for years, but now, when called on his actions - and equally importantly on his loyalties - he fidgets around like a kid who has failed to produce his homework assignment. The Kenya and CANA consecrations crossed the line. I rather suspect that you, just as much as I (not to mention Duncan) know it.

  16. Bluemoonalto17/1/08 8:50 AM

    John 2007 wrote:
    "So he must have 'openly renounced' the discipline of the church. Hmmmn. But how? Because he disagreed with votes of GC 2003?"

    No, of course not. That's a straw argument. He has openly endorsed, encouraged, planned for and put into motion the departure of his diocese from the Episcopal Church. That along with his participation in the irregular CANA ordinations, helping to set up a structure that claims to be a new province existing concurrently with (and apparently seeking to replace) TEC, shows that he is actively undermining the discipline of this church.

    I won't even speculate as to his motives. The actions speak loudly enough.

  17. obadiahslope17/1/08 9:41 AM

    I did not address the issue of whether Canterbury is in communion with CANA, but whether TEC is in communion with Kenya or Nigeria.
    You cited these provinces' announcements of being out of communion with TEC asevidence under part ii of the TEC canon you were discussing. It would be TEC's view as to which provinces TEC is in communion with that will be taken into consideration as a TEC body enforces TEC canons. Not mine that is for sure.
    A charge under subsection i would not involve this difficulty. the again i guess it is TEC's responsibility to interpret its own canons.

  18. "The removal from the ministry is a judgment that is of value only to members of the faithful community that are willing to live by and with the promises they made at baptism . . ."

    Uhmm, excuse me, but as a member of the laity, I did not promise at baptism and confirmation to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. Baptismal vows do not commit the laity to becoming Company People, as apparent do ordination vows. We can still be people of principle, not "My Church, right or wrong" people. We are committed to the apostles' teaching and fellowship (which has been shoved way under the table by the Company as of late), and we are committed to respecting others' dignity (which neither the Company or its dissenters are very good at recently, in my judgement). But I think you will find the baptized more committed to their local church (and hopefully to Christ) than they are to this denomination, and there is nothing in the baptismal vows that suggest it should be different.

    If you think the baptized should reject Duncan et al. because of their stand for the apostles' teaching and fellowship, you're going to have to prove your point. Until then, I will decide for myself how best to fulfill my baptismal vows, thank you.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.