Bishop MacBurney, the charges and counter-charges.

Bishop MacBurney has been inhibited pending trial. A letter to that effect was sent on April 2, 2008 by the Presiding Bishop to him and the other persons to whom it was required to be sent. The letter has occasioned considerable web noise because of Bishop MacBurney's age and the fact that his son had just died. May his son Page rest in peace and may the Bishop find consolation and comfort in the faith.

The Bishop is retired, but still a member of the House of Bishops, although now serving in a church under the auspices of the Province of the Southern Cone, and therefore guided by the Constitution and Canons of the Church. The charges are reportedly those brought by the Bishop of San Diego, Bishop Mathes.

As with most litigation, religious or secular, the process grinds away with built in points where notice is given, occasions for rebuttal, and on and on take place. Canonical land is mostly an unattractive place, filled with sausage making, but it also is the only place where bishops mucking about, even with the best of intentions, can be called to account.

I am glad that Bishop MacBurney is willing to challenge the basis of the charges against him. It will be an occasion to test out the meaning of Article II, Section 3 of The Episcopal Church Constitution which states: "A Bishop shall confine the exercise of such office to the Diocese
in which elected, unless requested to perform episcopal acts in another Diocese by the Ecclesiastical Authority thereof, or unless authorized by the House of Bishops, or by the Presiding Bishop by its direction, to act temporarily in case of need within any territory not yet organized into Dioceses of this Church" and Title III, Canon 12, Section 3 (e) which states: “No Bishop shall perform episcopal acts or officiate by preaching, ministering the sacraments, or holding any public service in a diocese other than that in which the Bishop is canonically resident, without permission or a license to perform occasional public services from the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese in which the bishop desires to officiate or perform episcopal acts.”

On the face of it, it would appear that Bishop MacBurney did indeed perform episcopal acts in a diocese not his own. Whatever argument there is for his doing this on behalf of the Province of the Southern Cone, IF he is indeed a member bishop of this church he is bound to ask permission of the Episcopal Church bishop of that territorial jurisdiction first. Bishop MacBurney does not contest the fact.

The Living Church quotes his lawyer as saying, “However those facts alone do not establish a violation of the constitution and canons. Bishop MacBurney intends to resist the charges.”

I will be interested to see how Mr. Stephens, lawyer for the Anglican Communion Network, pulls this one off.

Meanwhile, the Network, not to be outdone by Mr. Stephens and his confidence, posted a message from Forward in Faith North America regarding the inhibition and charges. That message ends,

"Internationally this is an attack upon the many world leaders of Anglican Churches (Primates) who have responded to the “burning house” of the ever increasingly post-Christian theology of TEC and its abandonment of the Bible as the Word of God in any meaningful sense.

Bishop MacBurney welcomes the opportunity to defend his actions from the scandalous neglect of Christian charity led by Katharine Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC."

So, rather than this being about Bishop MacBurney and his actions, the twist and turn is that it is about the "burning house" of "ever increasingly post-Christian theology of TEC and its abandonment of the Bible as the Word of God in any meaningful sense," and, oh yes, "the scandalous negelect of Christian charity led by (no title at at all) Katharine Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC."

Good try. When I was growing up we lived in Venezuela. My brother Christopher had a friend Tito, and when he got in trouble for this or that he would say, "I didn't do it, Tito did."

We all grew up and gave up childish ways, more or less.

Bishop MacBurney admits doing what he did, but apparently does not admit that the canons do not permit what he did. His friends, if not he, have responded on his behalf that the mess that ensues is not his, but rather that of some woman named Katharine.

"I didn't do it, Tito did."


  1. FIF and the Network's action reminds me of the advice that the Roman orator Cicero gave to his law students: "If you don't have a defense, abuse the plaintiff."

  2. Here's a post from March 18 on Titus One Nine:

    A retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy on Thursday said he won't fight charges that he broke church law last year by performing confirmations at a San Diego church.

    "You can't fight them because it's true - I did it," Bishop Retired Edward MacBurney said.

    The 80-year-old MacBurney, who lives in Clinton Valley, Iowa, served as bishop of the west-central Illinois diocese from 1988 to 1994.

  3. Jim of Lapeer10/4/08 11:04 PM

    There is no way to defend the timing of this action by TEC.
    Bp. Ackerman, who apparently was aware of the pending actions, asked the PB to delay while the Bp. MacBurney was dealing with his dying son.
    But in the great compassion of the current church, the letter was sent anyway, reaching Bp. MacBurney two days after his son died.
    Does TEC retain any sense of decency or compassion? And by the way, what is the record for a PB in inhibiting and then deposing bishops. The current PD must be nearing the all-time record, especially in such a short tenure, and is definitely headed for a place in the PB Hall of Fame.
    Laying this inhibition on a man as his son lays dying, whatever he did, is a cruel joke and a miserable Christian witness.

    Jim of Lapeer

  4. "The current PD must be nearing the all-time record [for deposing bishops], especially in such a short tenure." Very true, Jim. Would you like to pause a moment and consider why this is the case?

    [When is someone going to come up with a word verification system that uses unusual but "real" words?]

  5. It has come to my attention that a certain Jesus of Nazareth has committed an act of healing on the Sabbath without proper permission from the synagogue ruler.

    This is a clear violation of the canons governing synagogues in Palestine.

    I move that he be inhibited immediately, as certainly this action is as serious as confirming some fourteen-year-olds in a non-Episcopal church.

  6. Jim of Lapeer11/4/08 12:53 PM

    In answer to lapinbizarre:

    I believe the real reason she is approaching the record is that there is a great deal of talk of reconciliation, but not so much actual concern about reconciliation.
    If both sides (and I emphasize both sides) would put down their swords for a moment, consider their longstanding friendships and acquaintanceships and work on REAL reconciliation I think it actually could be accomplished.
    How?, you ask. How about this. When an elderly priest with a terminally ill wife submits his resignation from the HOB and moves his allegiance south, simply accept the resignation and tell him "Godspeed." Then when he does a bishop-thing in a non-Episcopal church there is no issue or reason to inhibit and depose him. If he walks into an active TEC church, then OK, the deal is off.
    When a bishop is in the process of dealing with the impending death of a child, offer grace and comfort, not legal papers.
    The blog host offers a vague justification for that awful action, but I think the PB should offer any pressing legal reasons why that inhibition could not have been delayed until at least after the boy's funeral. Can we all at least agree on that?
    When a group of churches decide to depart and want to negotiate a monetary deal to keep their property, sit down and negotiate in good faith.
    That way, TEC keeps its precious Dennis Canon intact by voluntarily selling the property to another church rather than litigating (at the cost of millions). Everyone retains its principles in that case. TEC gets the money and a tacit admission that it has owned the property and those departing keep the property.
    When 90 percent plus of the congregations are leaving anyway, the resulting consequence will be the sale of the property anyway.
    So I guess what I'm saying is that the current nastiness is completely avoidable and a more pleasant way forward possible if people of good intentions would simply recognize that the marriage has broken down and need to peacefully separate. For the good of the children a little less animosity and abusive raw power would be a help.
    By the way, when does Bp. Spong get his inhibition letter?
    Hope that answers your question.

    Jim of Lapeer

  7. Let's see, the bishop is 80 years old. I have no idea what age his son was. But jim of lapeer refers to him as 'child' and 'boy'. I sense a bit of dishonesty here. I tuned out whatever else he had to say as it probably was going to be a play on emotions. The papers were signed or delivered two days BEFORE the son dies and the pb is supposed to be guilty of what? Give me a break.

  8. Jim,

    I fear that reconciliation is far too costly and risky a route for our church to engage in seriously. It looks good on paper, and it's a nice topic for discussion, but that's as far as we will go on that journey. If you haven't read it yet, you might want to check out the AAC's interview with +Mark Lawrence. His thoughts on the subject are revealing but disheartening. I don't believe reconciliation will move beyond rhetoric into action until it is perceived to be advantageous as well as laudable. And right now, it seems that those in power believe they have much to lose and little to gain in such an effort.

  9. John-Julian, OJN11/4/08 10:03 PM

    I simply don't have the time to double check the Canons, but isn't it right that the inhibition (preceding trial or deposition) is to be six months in length?

    And isn't there a HoB meeting in September?

    I counted it on my fingers and it seems to me that the inhibition had to precede that HoB meeting by six months -- in which case, the inhibition notice had to be sent when it was sent, no matter how emotionally awkward (or even painful) it might have been.

    OCICBW in all the above, and if so I will certainly be told....

  10. Jim of Lapeer11/4/08 10:06 PM

    I don't care if Bp. MacBurney's son was 60 years old when he died, dropping an inhibition on a man after being told his son was in hospice was a cruel and unnecessary action until the PB decides to tell why she couldn't wait.
    Not to acknowledge that fact only exhibits the bias of the people who are so blind as not to see.
    I know you folks don't necessarily like to quote the Bible, but "do unto others as you would have done unto you."
    Don't believe me, look it up. Any human being honest enough to look inside would have to admit that the timing of this was horrid.
    But keep on defending it as it really shows how callous the TEC is.
    Both sides of the current travail make me sick with their self-righteousness and defense at all costs of whatever furthers their side.

    Jim of Lapeer

  11. What strikes me about the whole thing is how petty it is. A confirmation service, for goodness' sake. With a church clearly out-of-communion with the bishop in the area, so that the bishop would not be able to minister in that context. In a saner world, +MacBurney would have been thanked, not inhibited. But in a "church" more concerned with protecting its turf than providing spiritual care to people, this is what we can expect.

    I wonder what the confirmands are thinking about the whole thing? One would think that they are the ones who really matter. I imagine that they are honored that this bishop risked his standing to see them confirmed in Christ.

    And the people who defend this action of the presiding bishop call the conservatives Pharisees. Sheesh.

  12. Let me see if I understand. I can commit a felony and Jim's expectation is that I wont be arrested until the authorities make sure my sons are in good health. Right, got it!


  13. I've never heard the Rite of Confirmation described as a felony before. Interesting.

    Pardon me, but isn't that a bit of a stretch?

  14. Jim of Lapeer12/4/08 2:37 PM

    Talk about your hyperbole! We now believe that performing a confirmation service in a non-TEC church is equal to selling drugs, rape and murder.
    Please stop before you make a bigger fool of yourself.

    Jim of Lapeer

  15. I'm confused. Bp MacBurney elected not to request permission to officiate at a service in another diocese. He admits to commiting this offense. He now faces discipline for it. He allegedly intends to defend his actions.

    Why is this an issue? He's 80 years old. Well, OK, is there a senior citizen's clause that exempts him from his alleged offense? No. His age is irrelevant.

    His son is critically ill and dies at roughly the time of the inhibition. We should pray for his soul and for comfort for Bp. MacBurney. What does his family situation have to do with his alleged offense? Nothing. We can lament the timing of his son's death and his inhibition, but to charge ++KJS with anything in this regard is really stretching things, dontcha think? I've had a few private and professional crises hit concurrently and no one ran screaming to delay any event for me. Crocodile tears. Please weep elsewhere.

    Oh, while I'm thinking of it, someone who is standing firm points out that the number of inhibitions or depositions will break records. Is that supposed to be an indictment of ++KJS, or of her predecessors?

    Sorry, I'm not convinced that this uproar is valid.

  16. I don't believe he should be charged at all, unless one believes in the adage, "No good deed should go unpunished."

    The bishop of their geographic area was busy offering this church the new sacrament of litigation.

    MacBurney gave them pastoral care in the sacramental rite of confirmation.

    If the laws of God were more highly regarded than the canons we created, we'd immediately see that MacBurney was doing what a bishop is supposed to do, whereas the presiding bishop and Mathis were and are busy doing what no bishop should do. I won't waste your time citing the scriptures; you already know them.

    The fact that Schori presented this while his son was dying is simply rubbing salt into a wound that should never have been inflicted in the first place.

    Oh, I have no doubt he would lose the case if he challenges it. The deck is stacked anyway. And the Global South will probably gain another bishop here as a result of all TEC's efforts.

    But I dare say an entirely different judgment will be rendered in the court that really matters.

  17. Good grief! Certain Drama Queens on this thread, are acting like inhibition and deposition equate to a flogging or thumb-screws.

    These (former/soon-to-be former) bishops violated clearly established canons---breaching the "bonds of affection" w/ their kindred bishop, in so doing---and have had their episcopal privileges revoked as a consequence.

    No loss of pension. No loss of priesthood. No loss of other sacraments.

    Just loss of privilege. That's all.

  18. RB, I give up. You are simply not going to recognize that the offense is the boundary crossing. It is, the offense exists, the bishop knew the rules.

    Nothing much will happen to him when, not if, when, he is deposed. He will still be able to act within the context of his new found African roots, he will still be a bishop, and he wont have to bother ignoring invitations from the non-holy to attend HoB meetings. About the only real penalty is that he cannot be treated as an available cleric within TEC where he does not want to be anyway.

    That may mean that Quincy has to make some choices, but that is another matter entire.


  19. Mark et al:

    I had occasion to meet with Bishop MacBurney this week. He is not plugged in to the information superhighway and so had no idea of the furor surrounding the timing of the inhibition. +M harbors the PB no ill will regarding the timing. Had she acted sooner, critics would have deemed her ruthless or bloodthirsty or so other pejorative; likewise, had she delayed, she would have been accused of not acting in a timely fashion (a la +Cox). Simply put by the bishop, our PB did not know when +M's son would die. No one did. So for whatever else is debated on this thread regarding the actions of our PB, this is one subject where the alleged victim feels that no crime was perpetrated. Give her a break, as +M has asked, on the charges of "heartless timing."

    The real question, as Mark notes, is whether the canons were violated. Were the canons meant to cover a bishop acting in a church that is not a member of our church? That will be one of the questions considered. The church in question and one of the courts involved have agreed that the church where the acts were performed is not an Episcopal church (and +M may well claim he acted on this understanding). The diocesan bishop, the diocese and national church and another court have argued that the church in question is really still part of the Episcopal church. Which interpretation is right? That will be one of the important parts of this discussion.

    Of course, one question we should be discussion is whether this is the best witness to our Lord Christ and whether our fascination to go to the press about every jot and tittle is beneficial or destructive? We claim that bishops are meant to be reconcilers. What message are we sending, what are we witnessing, when we seek to publicly charge one another with such actions and other accusations of heresy or whatever with a desire to exclude them? Are we saying that our institution is more important that the pastoral care? Better still, what message are when sending when the rules by which we are bound to play seem applicable to one side (dio SC) and not to another (+Cox). Are we saying that the rules can be violated by one side for conscience's sake but not another's?

    Mark argues that we all grew up and gave up childish ways some time ago. I wonder whether we have grown up at all. Our witness to the world recently has been a lot of "did not -- did too's" and "no, it's mine" silliness, none of which calls the world to the abundant life promised by our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

    Christ's Peace,

  20. If a priest or bishop had a brother-in-law in a different state who was a Unitarian and who passed away. Would the TEC try to kick out that priest or bishop for delivering a homily at the funeral service? Or is this just about realigned Anglicanism in the U.S.?

    What is foolish is that the machinations of the PB only galvanize the seceders in Quincy (and Pittsburgh) with her rough shod, heavy handedness. Subtlety, diplomacy, and tact...she has none. That should worry the liberal institutionalists because the institution is going up in flames.

  21. This is not a matter as trivial as officiating at the funeral service of a different dedomination, RobRoy, as you know perfectly well. It is a question of performing a sacrament historically reserved in the Anglican Communion and elsewhere to the diocesan bishop or to his or her designated surrogate. MacBurney's performing these confirmations without the approval of the San Diego diocesan was, as he himself clearly admits, a deliberate act of border crossing. Your "defence" of Bishop MacBurney is pure squid ink - there is, as I hope you yourself realize - no moral equivalence whatever between the San Diego confirmations and the act to which you attempt to compare them.

  22. I guess we have a clue just how evil the Presiding Bishop can be... she took away a piece of their argument!

    From ENS: Inhibition of the Rt. Rev. Edward H. MacBurney, retired bishop of the Diocese of Quincy, Illinois, has been temporarily lifted to allow him to participate in liturgical services for a son who died April 4, the Presiding Bishop's canon said April 14.


  23. A question was raised as to how Bishop MacBurney and his attorney can respond to the charges. The answer may be relatively simple. Liberals in this country famously argue that the U.S. Constitution is a "living, breathing document" thus allowing virtually any desired interpretation of the Constitution. The far left Anglican church could hardly oppose a similar permissive interpretation of their own constitution.

  24. Jim of Michigan15/4/08 9:29 AM

    Actually Paul, her action in lifting the inhibition simply re-prompts the question, why not wait to do the inhibition until the death and funeral were complete.
    Sorry, but I think the reaction to her original action prompted a guilty conscience.
    Somehow I don't think her action one way or the other would have kept the Bishop from performing at his son's funeral.
    So the gesture is an empty one. The better gesture would have been to delay the action altogether.
    But then as a previous poster implied, the world and society would have faced the imminent danger of a bishop on the loose wielding his healing oil and confirmation rights to the danger of the rest of us.
    Gotta lock up those felons, you know.

    Jim from Michigan

  25. Rich,

    Three or four things:

    1) As I told you last night, those of us with moderation enabled generally let legitimate comments post. You cannot imagine the stuff we don't allow on. So that Fr. Mark let your post through is not surprising. In fairness, this cuts both ways, I routinely post on very conservative sites.

    2) You are mixing apples and oranges here. It is true that some church liberals are also political liberals, and some church conservatives are political conservatives. But it is very far from a galactic universal.

    3) Bad form buddy! It is good conduct to at least sign your post with a first name. Otherwise when the rest of us see, 'anonymous' we have no idea if you are responsible for all or only some of the comments. Given that some really stupid stuff gets sent under that name, you want to sign it.

    4) I believe it was Cicero who first said if your client is guilty and you have no evidence, attack the victim. The victim in this case is the Episcopal church which quite validly expects its clerics to keep their sworn word. When a bishop crosses into another's diocese and presides at a service in clear violation of canon with precedent back to Nicaea, he has clearly acted badly. So, the defense is to attack the church.

    Finally, friends, let me introduce to you my best friend, with whom I shall be arguing and dining this evening. "Anonymous" is a great, conservative guy.

    Jim's blog

  26. Thank God for the 13th amendment, eh, Anonymous? Otherwise I guess we'd have the Federalist Society arguing the legality of slavery under "original intent".

  27. robroy's analogy is bumph.

    It is established practice that the diocesan is informed whenever a cleric intends to do any ecclesial / liturgical action beyond merely vesting for the service.

    If the service is in an Anglican / Episcopal Church it is assumed that the incumbent will do it. ("Bishop, I've invited simplemassingpriest to preach at the 11 o'clock on the 12th.")

    If it is a service in the church of another denomination, a call, note or email is the appropriate courtesy. ("Bishop, I'm a priest of the Diocese of Woppitysplash. I've been asked to preach at my brother-in-law's funeral at First Universalist Church in Plunkett on the 12th.) The bishop's permission is generally presumed unless one hears otherwise.

  28. Just one or two comments so maybe I can put this in perspective, then I'll leave it to better minds than mine.

    1. I would think it would be common courtesy, with or without canons and constitutions, to inform someone you are coming into their house to talk. I know I'd get upset if my brother from Branson came down and started giving my son life lessons without my invitation. Even if the action was or wasn't "legal", it's just plain rude and shows lack of concern or Christian love.

    2. This is one of my favorite bones to pick. Whenever someone mentions the Bible as the "Word of God" I get confused. Last time I checked, Jesus was the Word of God (reference the Gospel of John Ch 1). I don't remember the Torah sprouting legs and a mouth and preaching along the river Jordan.
    But then I'm just a redneck from the Ozarks, what do I know.

    Arkansas Hillbilly

  29. Bravo Mark,

    You side with Bishop Schori, who to prove her superior knowledge, and leadership skill, sat on her hands to deliver the inhibition hammer until much later than normally performed. When she did finally deliver the inhibition (hardly "timely" by canonically routine) she found the best opportunity: the deathbed of Bishop MacBurney's son.

    Bravo. Compassion. This stinks and everybody knows it.

  30. Of course, had the Presiding Bishop proceeded more quickly, Allen at al would have been shrieking about her undue haste.

    A poster above has already indicated that there was no way the Presiding Bishop would have known that the younger gentleman was on his deathbed, and that the inhibited bishop attributes no viscious plots to the timing.

    Clearly, hoever much I may disagree with him on the substantive issue, the bishop is a more mature and thoughtful controversialist than the slandermongers who've been trying to turn the timing into a scandal.

  31. Malcolm,

    Bishop Schori knew that Bishop MacBurney's son was DYING. In HOSPICE. That his wife is struggling for her life. In late stages. She sat on the inhibition for a LONG time; longer than a "timely" delivery under the canons. The more she waited, the more precarious the receipt would be - including a PR disaster: which this IS. The better part of judgment would have been to have just let ONE SIMPLE CONFIRMATION SERVICE slide for the sake of decency and past service. After all, Bishop MacBurney served the Church for decades. He admitted to participating in a single worship service as an invitee. He didn't lead the masses out of the Church. He admitted to ministering to those who asked to hear the Word of God. For pity's sake, is there ANY common decency left in this mad Church?
    Remember that these tacks driven with sledge-hammers only make sense to those with Church pensions .. not to those who hear the circumstances and the truth.
    Those who defend this blood-letting tactic today will surely have it used against THEM in the future.

  32. Thanks Allen.

    Your shouting and continued slander merely reaffirms my contrast between the bishop and his supporters.


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.