6/06/2008

Stay Awake: The Pittsburgh Stealers continue to plan.

Just so there is no doubt as to what is going on: (i) The Diocese of Pittsburgh posted several resolutions that are being put forward "deemed in proper form" by Diocesan Council" the purpose of which are to (a) align with the Province of the Southern Cone, (b) provide a period of time in which parishes can readjust their bylaws to conform to the canons or petition the Diocese to "break its union" with the Diocesan Convention, and (c) provide canons for the Diocese until it (and presumably the Province of the Southern Cone) can straighten out the canonical mess that all this entails. The solution there is that the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church shall be used, except when the Diocese decides that they don't apply.

This is the first clear evidence that the Southern Cone is the place to which they propose to go. The argument is then made that the realignment, by resolution, will be the fact against which parishes not in agreement will have to relate. That is, parishes will have to petition NOT to be in the Southern Cone via the Convention of the Diocese. This is of course a matter of canonical slight of hand, also known as thievery. The Pittsburgh leadership is stealing the prior right of parishes to belong to the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Episcopal Church and now propose to make it possible to "go" and become part of the Episcopal church only by consent of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Southern Cone. This is mayhem of the first order. It will be interesting to find any canons at all that support such craziness.


Joan Gunderson wrote a comment on my
previous posting concerning the plans in the diocese that include a financial safety-net for the two bishops and the canon to the ordinary. Her comments may be read on Thinking Anglicans, or in the comments section of the blog entry.


The Episcopal Cafe "Lead" section
also carried her comments as well as the comment that there are a variety of comments to my blog entry that are of interest. There are (as of Friday afternoon) over forty comments - a large number for a small blog.


Many are very unhappy that I believe the leadership (Bishop and Standing Committee) to be in the midst of abandonment and takeover, aka leaving with the goods. It turns out that I was wrong. They are not only attempting to abandon and leave with the goods, they want those who do not leave to ask their permission to stay and continue faithful to the promises they made to be responsible members of the Episcopal Church. This approaches the depth of dissonance that makes for madness.



In my prior blog entry I suggested various possible solutions to abandonment with plans to take the goods. I was criticized for suggesting that perhaps the abandonment canon might be used prior to actual abandonment or that the Standing Committee might be similarly accused, even though the Canons make no provision for such. The criticism was that the canons provide a normal reach that covers the various matters in which the leadership of Pittsburgh have acted contrary to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Abandonment, these critics argue, is meant to cover precisely that - the situation where a bishop has - on the face of it - left.



But that is not quite true. I have often thought that abandonment was about having left the building. But that is only part two of the possible reasons. The Abandonment canon sets out the following as reasons: "...(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..."

Arguably Bishop Duncan has openly renounced various points of the discipline, even though he contests the fact. I want to take him at his word. As for exercising episcopal acts not allowed, I cannot say. But be that as it may, the criticism is that it is not all that clear that Bishop Duncan has YET abandoned the communion of this church. The Title IV Review Committee believes otherwise. But either way, most bets are that he will.



My concern was, and is, that matters are moving very rapidly. I did not realize just how rapidly. Now it is confirmed by Joan Gunderson and the President of the Standing Committee of Pittsburgh that a contract exists by which the two bishops and the canon to the ordinary will have one year consultancies and that those will go into effect should Bishop Duncan be deposed.


Planning ahead is a useful thing, I suppose. It would be good to have income in hand for the immediate future in which such things as the matter of funding was confused. But contingency planning for something that will surely happen if the Convention does as is planned is not about contingency, it is about a safety-net, against the possibility that diocesan funds might be impounded. With a prior contract and promise in hand, this would be a legitimate call on impounded funds. This contingency contract is additional support for the notion that the leadership of the Diocese is prepared to abandon ship just as soon as the Convention makes the changes to the Diocesan canons.



So here are some possible scenarios:



(a) The House of Bishops does not depose Bishop Duncan and Diocesan Convention does not
pass the Constitutional and Canonical changes. The leadership remains in place, and stays or leaves as it will. The Diocese remains as part of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Duncan remains a loyal son of the Episcopal Church.



(b) Bishop Duncan is not deposed. The Diocesan Convention in October, approves the Constitutional and Canonical changes proposed) and openly abandons communion with this church. The bishops would become a member of the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone. The leadership leaves with the keys in their pockets and would contend, we may be sure, that those parishes wishing to "go" to the Episcopal Church would have to prove their case before a review committee, however constituted.



(c) The House of Bishops in September, following up on the Title IV determination, consents to the Presiding Bishop's deposition of Bishop Duncan. He is deposed. He is retained by the Diocese as a consultant and so attends the meeting in October of their convention, but not in the chair. The chair of the Standing Committee presumably would chair, and the bishops consult. Two possibilities emerge:

(i)The Convention does not vote for the changes, and the Standing Committee continues as the ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese, with consultants. (The Standing Committee has indicated that they are ready to do this.)
(ii) The Convention passes the various resolutions and would then maintain that the Diocese of Pittsburgh is no longer part of the Episcopal Church. The Standing Committee would then act to reinstate Bishop Duncan by either election or appointment (who knows what diocesan or provincial canons they might apply), the Standing Committee or the Bishop would then review petitions of those who wished to "go" to the Episcopal Church, and so forth.

But suppose another possibility:


(d) The House of Bishops determines at their next meeting that Bishop Duncan is not deposed immediately, but instruct the Presiding Bishop to inform the Bishop that upon his decision from the chair to allow the vote on the second reading of the changes in the Diocesan Constitution to go forward, he automatically is deposed on the grounds that he has repudiated the requirement that the Diocesan canons accede to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and from that moment he is deposed, making his actions at Convention subsequent to that point no longer binding. Should the Diocesan Convention proceed to vote on these matters under supervision of the Standing Committee, they too would be declared incompetent to chair, since they too would be acting contrary to the Discipline of the Episcopal Church.



The matter of the vote at the Diocesan Convention is at the crux of the problem. The Chair (the Bishop or the Standing Committee President) could declare the motions or resolutions before the house to be out of order because they have been declared by the Episcopal Church to be null and void. If they do so, they confirm that they remain part of the Episcopal Church. If they do not, they confirm that they have abandoned the communion of this church by clear repudiation of the unconditional accession clause.



I have no idea what the future holds. The HoB may or may not consent to deposition. The Diocese may or may not vote for the changes. The Bishop may or may not leave.



But I do know this:
"if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into." (Matt 24:43) Sounds like good advice. And yes, I know Jesus used this saying in reference to watchfulness about the second coming (or at any rate the coming) of the Lord. Still it applies as an ordinary wisdom saying as well.


We know at what part of the night the house is going to be broken into. Plans are made and contingencies mapped out. At the very least we need to be awake.


8 comments:

  1. One wonders just what the settlement between Bishop Duncan and Calvary Church of Pittsburgh would have in this case. As I recall, Calvary is trying to get enforcement of the settlement. Perhaps that would give some local reality to efforts to take the Diocese and its property out of the Episcopal Church.

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  2. And what of charity for all, malice toward none?

    What if we all just agree to separate for a period - say, ten years, twenty years and then come back and see how we're doing. The progressive churches stay in their buildings, the orthodox churches stay in their buildings, and we all just call for a peaceful separation - no Berlin Wall, no divorce, open borders and open doors.

    Churches could come and go as the diocesan councils pass. Some years fifty churches show up, some years a hundred churches show, some years a handful of churches show. And some year maybe everyone would show and we'd be ready to make peace.

    It's not a worldly way - but it would be a witness to the world of supernatural kindness, like a cold cup of water on a very hot day.

    Perhaps in 20 years we'll forget why we were arguing and find ways to live together in peace. If the prophetic is true, then it will be plain. If a correction is made, that will be plain. But the acrimony will cease.

    I mean, if they are doing it in Belfast, certainly we can do it here. Threats do not bring peace - how can we TEC say they are pacifists while they sue their brothers and sisters?

    Even if TEC got everything it wants, won every case, deposed every bishop, got the head table at Lambeth, it still would not buy the peace.

    bb

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  3. If there is acrimony, Duncan and friends have brought it upon themselves (but like so many of this era, they want to blame it on anyone but themselves.) Theft and subversion do not demonstrate kindness and does not buy peace, it invites acrimony. There would be peace if Duncan and Iker, etc. had even a hint of integrity, as a handful of their former colleagues have shown, renounced the orders to which they are beholden under a church they clearly despise, and followed God's call to other pastures. It's not a worldly way, but it would be a witness to the world of supernatural integrity and the acrimony would stop.

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  4. This issue with the Standing Committee is, I think, one of civil liability for breach of fiduciary duty, in diverting assets from their charitable purpose. But any action would have to come, not from 815, but from loyal Episcopalians in the diocese, or from the Pennsylvania attorney general or charities regulator.

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  5. Christopher (P.)7/6/08 2:43 PM

    Baby Blue-- You make good points, to which Mark reponds in his more recent post. But is it not at least a little important that the Diocese of Virginia, within whose territory you find yourself, is the defendant in the suit? One thing that reverberates under your words is the Scriptural admonition that Christian should not take Christian to court. Is it not just a bit diverting to keep maintaining that those in your cause are being sued, when in fact the opposite is the case?

    So saying, as others have stated more eloquently than I, one wishes that there were a better way. But it is a mark of a church--of any responsible institution--to discipline its officials when they fail to do their duty, and it seems that this is the only way to accomplish that. (At least, it's the only way that our feeble imaginations have come up with.) Failing such discipline, I fear it's really anarchy, towards which, indeed, events veer day-by-day.

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  6. bb,

    My Episcopal parish is around the corner from the Baptists.

    If the Baptists suddenly moved in---and told us, we could worship w/ them, Baptist-style, or else (having departed True Christian Teachings, as they understand them) go elsewhere (and that they'd further more SUED us to take over the title!)---doncha think we Episcopalians are going to say, "Um . . . Uh-uh!"

    The fact that the takeover, ultimatum, expulsion and lawsuit undertaken by y'all, bb, has been slightly longer in coming about, doesn't change the essential dynamic: non-Episcopalians occupying ("with extreme prejudice") Episcopal property.

    That, and not a "You progressives do your thing in your property, we conservatives will do our thing in ours" CANARD, is The Issue!

    ALL you have to do, to worship in an Episcopal Church, is be an Episcopalian (left, right, center, muddled: whatever!). Why is that SO DIFFICULT for you to understand?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Edward of Baltimore10/6/08 11:05 AM

    BabyBlue,
    You and I have been separated for thirty years and now find ourselves in close proximity again. Thirty years ago we shared a similar understanding of Jesus, and what it means to be a Christian. Over time though, and through our various experiences have come to different understandings and different expressions of our shared faith in Christ. How will another, intentional separation bridge that gap? How will a further separation bring us closer to oneness in Christ? How will I learn of God from you, and you learn of God from me if we walk apart? Would not Christ have us meet at table, break bread together, and find in each other the love of God that is in you and is in me?

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  8. BB,

    Not a bad idea, actually. But I have the same reservations as JCF. Why can't we do this within TEC ? Left, right, center, muddled: whatever!

    As Episcopalians, common worship is what unites us, along with the Prayer Book, the Creeds and our baptismal covenant. Other than that, why not (as you suggest) simply agree to disagree for a time - with the proviso that no majority be allowed to dictate to a minority in their diocese how to "do church" ? e.g. No "liberal" bishops forcing conservative parishes to accept female priests, and no conservative bishops forbidding us from blessing same-sex unions.

    A little helping of charity for all, malice toward none could work just as well within the Church. As long as we'd commit to keeping our noses out of each others' business a bit as well :)

    ReplyDelete

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