2/08/2008

Abandonment of Communion, Current and Preposed. (corrected)

Bishop Schofield has been inhibited based on findings by the Title IV Review Panel and the House of Bishops will be required to vote on certify that he has abandoned the Communion of this Church at the HoB meeting in March of this year. Those who wander around blog land are quite aware that Bishop Schofield does not believe that the inhibition has meaning and does not acknowledge the right of the House of Bishops to depose him since he has joined the bishops of another Province, namely the Province of the Southern Cone.

But, of course, this is not about him. It is about the Episcopal Church.

Deposition is somewhat like cleaning house. Deposition makes clear to members of the Episcopal Church, members of other Churches and to the civil society at large that the deposed Bishop has no standing in this church, and may not act as an officer of the church in any way. All license to minister in this church are voided and any license to act as a church official in civil society must then come from some other source. Effectively the Episcopal Church takes no responsibility for his further action and repudiates its responsibility for his actions. It further repudiates any claims he makes to assets of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin or of The Episcopal Church.

Deposition also puts the whole Communion on notice that the person deposed is not in any way an agent of The Episcopal Church. Further, there is at least the implicit refusal to recommend this person for ministry in any other church in the communion. It becomes a case of "buyer beware." In this case, the Primate of the Province of the Southern Cone is put on notice that the Episcopal Church has found that Bishop Schofield presents problems here that may, if unresolved, crop up again in the receiving Church.

Bishop Schofield has opportunity to respond to the findings of the Panel of Reference, but time is running out. His public response has been to deny that he has "abandoned the communion of this Church" as he understands it. He seems to think that that phrase has to do with the Anglican Communion, and he claims he has not abandoned the Anglican Communion. He is wrong.

The phrase "abandon the communion of this Church" has to do with this Church (i.e. The Episcopal Church). The Anglican Communion is not a Church so it cannot apply to the AC. "This" refers to the only Church to which the Canons of The Episcopal Church apply, namely the Episcopal Church.

The Title IV Task Force has proposed revisions to canons on ecclesiastical discipline and has provided a period to receive comments. The Episcopal News Service posted this on Thursday, February 7, exercising better liturgical manners than did the Anglican Communion office who issued the "St. Andrew's Draft Anglican Covenant" on Ash Wednesday. The proposed revision can be seen HERE.

I was particularly interested to see that the Title IV revision has exactly the same title for the Canon covering abandonment. In the existing Canons it is Title IV. 9. In the proposed Canon it is Title IV.16.

The first section of both the existing canon and the proposed canon are as follows – with the changes in the new version (IV.16) in red:

The proposed revision:

CANON 16: Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church

(A) By a Bishop

Sec. 1 If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline and 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 (omitting "or another church in communion with this Church"), so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority of this Church, or (iv) in any other way; it shall be the duty of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, by a majority vote of all of its members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop (omitted also here " with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church,") shall then place a restriction on the exercise of ministry of said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. During the period of such restriction, the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of which the Bishop holds jurisdiction or in which the Bishop is then serving."

The existing canon:

"CANON 9: Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop

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, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in this Church; it shall be the duty of the Review Committee, by a majority vote of All the Members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church, shall then inhibit the said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. During the period of Inhibition, the Bishop shall not perform any episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of which the Bishop holds jurisdiction or in which the Bishop is then serving."

The changes proposed here are these (i) the addition of "any other way" to the list of reasons for determining that abandonment has taken place; (ii) the notion of a Disciplinary Board for Bishops, replacing the Title IV Review Committee; and (iii) replacing the notion of inhibition with that of restriction. It is, of course, the first of these three items that is the most serious of the changes. "In any other way" opens the matter of abandonment to a wide variety of interpretations, many of which ought to be quite unwelcomed by our bishops. Two omitted phrases - "or another Church in communion with this Church," and " with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church" raise all sorts of additional concerns. (Correction thanks to two readers of this blog.) These too must be addressed.

Under the proposed changes, could abandonment charges be brought against a bishop who refused to attend House of Bishops meetings? Or who refused to attend the Eucharist with those Bishops? Or what about a bishop who took part in a "post-denominational" ordination in China? "In any other way" opens up a door into an ecclesial hell of charges and countercharges.

I hope there will be considerable discussion of the Title IV changes. It is a difficult document to read because it offers a quite different approach to ecclesiastical discipline than we have had in the past. A lot of work has gone into this revision of a revision (one not passed at General Convention 2006). But, as the canon on abandonment changes suggest, there are possible land mines around that need to be examined and if necessary cleared.



5 comments:

  1. Mark: One other revision that you missed: The new version takes this: "(iii) by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church" and drops the "in communion with this church." The challenge with Schofield is that he can say that since the Southern Cone is "in communion" with TEC, he has not abandoned the communion of this church, just this particular part of the communion. I don't know how you get around that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. tom sramek, jr. Thanks for your note. I have corrected the text. (I must admit that I was looking for additions or substitutes, not subtractions...oh well.) Your second point misses the problem (I think) that Bishop Schofield did not ask the HoB to be released to another part of the Anglican Communion, he simply took himself out. It is unclear that the PSC is in communion with us. We are with them. But that is not the issue anyway. The issue is that Bishop Schofield left, says he left, left without any release from his duties as bishop of San Joaquin, a diocese of the Episcopal Church. At some point the Episcopal Church has to say he has abandoned the communion of this Church (TEC). No one disagrees with the fac that he has left. No one particularly likes the language of abandonment since it seems a negative for what might be considered by the doer as a positive.

    BTW that is why the change in the language from "inhibit" to "restrict" might be of some value.

    Thanks for the correction.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I find it also quite significant that the role of the three senior Bishops is removed from the revision. That will avoid future situations like that of the Bishop of Pittsburgh.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Jake...it seems this blog entry has needed sharper eyes than I provided. Both you and Tom made suggestions and I made corrections.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't like the draft.

    I think it should be very difficult to remove a bishop for anything that is not a civil felony. Making it easier by using vague language like, "or any other" is contrary to my premise. I read this as an attempt to make it easier to deal with future +San J. or +Pittsburgs. It should not be easy!

    The use of the abandonment canon to rid ourselves of troublesome priests is an example of bad canon law, not good. It should not be modeled for bishops. Rather we should tighten up when and how a diocese can claim a priest / deacon has abandoned the communion and make that easy path more difficult.

    If they break the canons, present them, try them and depose them. Don't cop out and deny them a trial.

    FWIW
    jimB

    ReplyDelete

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.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.