Church of England Newspaper is not the Judge

The Church of England Newspaper is reported to have had an "investigation" into the "trial" of Bishop Cox. The article is not an investigation, it is a judgment.

Let's get it straight: The Church of England Newspaper is just that - an unofficial newspaper that can do any damn thing it wants and call it an investigation. Further, the author of the report, George Conger, is a reporter for that paper. That is, it is his story that is the investigation.

Mr. Conger is in my mind a very good reporter, but his most recent stories would make his investigative reporting appear to carry great institutional weight. We might hope that the Church of England Newspaper would distance itself from his opinion on occasion.

Mr. Conger put his opinion piece on his blog - a blog I might add that I often find very useful. You can read it HERE.

There are problems with the article. For starters, there is this paragraph:

"In a March 12 press conference, Bishop Schori stated she had not followed rules governing the requirement that the 88-year old retired bishop be granted a speedy trial, that he be informed of the charges against him in a timely fashion, and that the consent of the church’s senior bishops be solicited by the Presiding Bishop to suspend him from office pending trial. A subsequent investigation by CEN in conjunction with The Living Church magazine revealed an insufficient number of votes to convict were cast also."

Whether or not Mr. Conger was directly quoting the Presiding Bishop, the facts seem to bear out that Bishop Cox did not have his case considered by the House of Bishops in the next meeting following the Review Committee's findings (which looks as if it would have been in New Orleans). But the notion of "speedy trial" is not part of the canon (Title IV.9) pertaining to abandonment of communion. There is no trial. Rather there is the requirement that the Review Committee render a judgment which the Presiding Bishop then acts upon by doing various things (suspending or inhibiting the bishop, bringing it before the House of Bishops, etc).

The Presiding Bishop apparently did not inhibited Bishop Cox (which would have made no sense, as Bishop Cox was retired and had resigned and therefore had no jurisdiction or appointment in the Episcopal Church). She was under no obligation, according to Canon to bring the matter to the House of Bishops at any time prior to her determination that it was time to do so. It is the assumption of the canon that there are matters for which inhibition would make sense, but there being no such matters, the question can be raises as to whether or not the Presiding Bishop then can wait until an appropriate time to bring the matter to the House of Bishops.

The close of that paragraph includes a reference to yet another investigation by CEN and the Living Church that "revealed an insufficient number of votes to convict were cast also." Again, CEN and TLC did not reveal any such thing. What they did (and it may have been very important for them to do so) was to raise the question as to whether or not sufficient votes were cast. By the way, the vote was not to convict, but to consent to something the Presiding Bishop proposed to do.

The "trial" language came up again in the effort to explain (rather than simply state) the canon.
"The procedures laid out in Title IV, Canon 9, sections 1 and 2 (the abandonment canon) to depose a bishop state that after the Title IV review committee issues a certificate of abandonment the Presiding Bishop “shall” “forthwith” notify the accused. The Presiding Bishop then “shall” seek the consent of the three senior bishops with jurisdiction to inhibit the accused bishop, and trial “shall” take place at the “next” meeting of the House of Bishops."

At no time in Title IV.9 does the Canon refer to a trial.

Mr. Conger quotes Bishops Wantland and Bishop Howe both of whom believe that canonical procedure was not followed. They are quite right to press their case, as is Mr. Conger.

Bishop Wantland believes Bishop Cox was deposed using the wrong canon. Bishop Howe believes that the canon was not followed regarding voting. Both seem to have tried to work out an appeal process.

Mr. Conger reports that "The Bishop of Central Florida has called for a review of the proceedings, and the president of the church’s appellate court of review for the trial of bishops is understood to have agreed to look into the proceedings."

It is odd that the appeal is being made to the appellate court of review for the trial of bishops, since this is not a trial proceeding, but rather a process for consent.

All of this quagmire has driven me to purchase a copy of the Annotated Constitution and Canons, a two volume tome that cost a fortune and gives one pause on a number of accounts.

Anyone who thinks Title IV.9 is clear ought to read that section of the Annotated Canons - which don't even get us to the present. This canon has been used from the outset to clean house - to take from the roles persons who have either left already or who have aligned themselves with groups not in communion with the Episcopal Church and not bothered to close out their vows regarding the Episcopal Church, or who have simply gone around the bend. It is a canon with a difficult history. Its primary assumption is that the Presiding Bishop is empowered to depose someone for abandonment of Communion without trial but with consents - where those consents come from and what precisely is needed has varied over time.

The language of the current canon has clearly been interpreted in several different ways. What we have now is that some bishops - Wantland and Howe in particular - disagree with the interpretation of either the charges and what canon applies or the interpretation of the vote required.

These questions are quite appropriate. Mr. Conger's articles, some being his own, some written with writers from The Living Church, raise important questions. But this article, "Call for Review after Trial 'flouted Church rules'" steps over from reporting a matter to an editorial declaration that Church rules were flouted. He may be right, but saying so does not make it so.


  1. Second to last paragraph: "apples" should be "applies."

  2. Rev. Harris, your apology for the abuse of the canons closely follows your church’s theological method. As in the case of departing from the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the outcome (make an example of this Godly, elderly bishop) was determined first, with the rationale only cobbled together after the outcry from the cheap seats got loud enough.

    This can be seen from the parts you omitted in which Conger did quote the PB:

    At a March 12 press conference Bishop Schori outlined the procedural history surrounding the Cox case. She said the Title IV review committee had “certified [Bishop Cox] several years ago. … before her time.” She added, however, that “it was never brought to the House of Bishops for action.”

    She then said she “did not send it to the three senior bishops” and the House of Bishops “did not consider it in September” at their meeting in New Orleans with the Archbishop of Canterbury due to the “the press of other business.”

    Apparently, having made clear her feelings the rules are mere nuisances, KJS didn’t get the memo that everything is perfectly in order and there is nothing to see here.

  3. Mark,

    The Annotated Constitution and Canons is available as a very large PDF file at the TEC Archives website. It is an image scan format, but if you have access to the Adobe PDF software you can run the document through the character recognition feature you can produce a searchable version for your own use. Even without that feature it does mean you can read it on your computer.

    Thanks for this reflection. It astounds me that the nitpickers of the Church of England Newspaper so misrepresent the matter as a trial and conviction. Perhaps that's what we should have had for Bishop Wantland years ago, when he attempted to set up a a shadow corporation?

  4. So Mark,

    The more people tell reappraisers how ludicrous they are on this matter, the more you resent them and insinuate that they must be wrong because they can say ".. any damn thing" that they want.
    After awhile that won't work.
    "Awhile" has been reached.
    People aren't buying the "integrity" of the House of Bishops farce. Half of the bishops themselves didn't even register for this meeting, knowing full well what they had to do. When LESS than half of the bishops don't have the stomach for their own meeting, then THAT says it all.


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.