3/12/2009

Questions from the Anglican Communion Institute & two bishops.

From the now posted statement from the ACI Statement on Civil Litigation, two issues are raised:

"The issues raised by the actions of the Presiding Bishop over the past year, and which are now before the civil courts, are these: (1) do the Presiding Bishop and the central bodies of The Episcopal Church (General Convention and Executive Council) have metropolitan authority over the dioceses and diocesan bishops; and (2) do dioceses have authority under the constitution of The Episcopal Church to sign an Anglican covenant independently of The Episcopal Church as a whole in order to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion, the sine qua non on which The Episcopal Church’s continued constitutional viability rests. Should the efforts by the Presiding Bishop in the civil courts be successful, the result may very well be to subvert forever the polity of The Episcopal Church."

The questions in turn:

(1) do the PB and central bodies have metropolitan authority over the dioceses and diocesan bishops?


Episcopal Church Canon I.Sec. 4 describes the Presiding Bishop and the office this way:

(a) The Presiding Bishop shall be the Chief Pastor and Primate
of the Church, and shall:
(1) Be charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating
and developing the policy and strategy in the Church and
speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and
programs authorized by the General Convention;
(2) Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the
representative of this Church and its episcopate in its
corporate capacity;
(3) In the event of an Episcopal vacancy within a Diocese,
consult with the Ecclesiastical Authority to ensure that
adequate interim Episcopal Services are provided;
(4) Take order for the consecration of Bishops, when duly
elected; and, from time to time, assemble the Bishops of
this Church to meet, either as the House of Bishops or as
a Council of Bishops, and set the time and place of such
meetings;
(5) Preside over meetings of the House of Bishops; and, when
the two Houses of the General Convention meet in Joint
Session, have the right of presiding over such Session, of
calling for such Joint Session, of recommending legislation
to either House and, upon due notification, of appearing
before and addressing the House of Deputies; and
whenever addressing the General Convention upon the
state of the Church, it shall be incumbent upon both
Houses thereof to consider and act upon any
recommendations contained in such address;
(6) Visit every Diocese of this Church for the purpose of:
(i)
Holding pastoral consultations with the Bishop or Bishops
thereof and, with their advice, with the Lay and Clerical
leaders of the jurisdiction;
(ii) Preaching the Word; and
(iii)
Celebrating the Holy Eucharist.
(b) The Presiding Bishop shall report annually to the Church, and
may, from time to time, issue Pastoral Letters.
(c) The Presiding Bishop shall perform such other functions as shall
be prescribed in these Canons; and, to be enabled better to perform
such duties and responsibilities, the Presiding Bishop may appoint, to
positions established by the Executive Council of General
Convention, officers, responsible to the Presiding Bishop, who may
delegate such authority as shall seem appropriate."

The ACI wants to know if the PB and or the General Convention/ Executive Council have metropolitical authority over the bishops and dioceses. The Constitution and Canons make reference to metropolitans and metropolitical authority in two places, Title I.11.4 and in Title IV.2.12. There is no indication in the text as to what differences there may be between Metropolitans and Presiding Bishops and Archbishops of Provinces. So the answer is, who knows?

But of course this is a smokescreen. The question is not if there is metropolitical authority here, but rather whether or not the Presiding Bishop and the General Convention / Executive Council have authority over dioceses, and if so in what does it consist? That is not about some magic word, "Metropolitan" or "Metropolitical," but about substantive authority derived from the Constitution and Canons. If ACI wants to challenge the PB, General Convention or Executive Council regarding their exercise of authority let them do so on specific grounds related to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, not to some abstraction called "Metropolitical authority."

The ACI document states, "The polity of The Episcopal Church, clearly expressed in its name, its constitution and its history, is that of dioceses and bishops meeting in a general convention as equals. The Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council are the agents, not the superiors, of the dioceses." The first of these sentences is true. The second is confused.

The Presiding Bishop and Executive Council have duties related to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and are the officers of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and have responsible for the governance of The Episcopal Church. They are not "agents" or "superiors," they are the elected leadership of The Episcopal Church.

The ACI dislikes the notion that they claim is held by the Chancellor, that "...the polity of The Episcopal Church has as its highest tier of authority the central bodies of the Presiding Bishop, General Convention and Executive Council. Underneath this triumvirate on “the next level” are the dioceses and their bishops. Dioceses are explicitly characterized as “subordinate unit[s].”

Apparently ACI wants to maintain that dioceses are independent agents, can come and go as they wish from any wider institution, and that their bishops have standing independent of their charge within the context of the Constitution and Canons of the church. All of which would make some sense were it not for the oath taken on ordination and the accession clause by which bishops and dioceses declare themselves bound by the Constitution and Canons.

I would hazard the guess that, from a civil legal position, this means that yes, indeed, dioceses are "subordinate units" and bishops are under authority. Yes that means that in some situations dioceses are held to continue even when the bishop, standing committees, and many communicants walk away and no longer feel bound by the Constitution and Canons. And yes, that means that those who leave have no authority in the entity called the Diocese of (....) which continues as part of TEC.

We might also note in passing that one of the arguments used concerning authority takes the form of asking if The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church. The Canons of TEC in fact refer to this matter at least once: Title IV.14.1 states, "Disciplinary proceedings under this Title are neither civil nor criminal, but ecclesiastical in nature and represent determinations by this Church of who shall serve as Members of the Clergy of this Church and further represent the polity and order of this hierarchical Church." Here at least the question is answered in the affirmative.

As to question 2: "do dioceses have authority under the constitution of The Episcopal Church to sign an Anglican covenant independently of The Episcopal Church as a whole in order to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion, the sine qua non on which The Episcopal Church’s continued constitutional viability rests?"

There is no reference to an Anglican Covenant in the Constitution and Canons. Among the duties of the Presiding Bishop are that he or she shall

(1) Be charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating
and developing the policy and strategy in the Church and
speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and
programs authorized by the General Convention;
(2) Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the
representative of this Church and its episcopate in its
corporate capacity;

No one else seems to have these particular responsibilities - speaking for the Church regarding policies authorized by General Convention and representing this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity. Under normal circumstances we might assume that this included signing off on an Anglican Covenant, on behalf of The Episcopal Church, such covenant having been declared the policy of this church by General Convention.

The notion that individual diocese might or might not sign off on the Anglican Covenant is not related in any way to the ACI nightmare of metropolitical authority being exercised by the Presiding Bishop or anyone else. If the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates and / or the Anglican Consultative Council were to decide that testimonials from individual dioceses was what they wanted in terms of covenant affirmation, then they can ask for it.

If they do so they completely undermine the notion that the Anglican Covenant concerns the churches of the communion. It becomes a way of reaching around the authority of any national or regional church for an authority base directly linking dioceses to the authority of a world wide church organization (be it the ABC, the Primates or the ACC). The Anglican Covenant idea is already in enough trouble. This would kill it immediately.

Again ACI is on a reach that exceeds its grasp. The telling phrase is "in order to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion, the sine qua non on which The Episcopal Church’s continued constitutional viability rests." The Episcopal Church's constitutional viability does not rest on being a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. The Preamble is descriptive, not proscriptive. If it could be determined that the legal meaning of the Preamble is proscriptive the proof of its provisional nature would be simple to provide. Simply strike the preamble (which only came to be in the 1960's) and return to a document without a preamble. It takes two General Conventions to do so. That's all. Nothing from any other source in the Anglican Communion can prevent this Church from recalling the Preamble or interpreting it as General Convention wishes.


This paper is no help at all to anyone.

5 comments:

  1. Fr John Mark, OSF13/3/09 10:50 AM

    Frankly I do not give a hang about the actions, opinions and/or wishes, desires of Ms Schori and her partners in the remaking of the Episcopal Church, Mr. Beers and Ms Anderson.
    Should I be so inclined to sign the Anglican Covenant as a rector, I will do so. Shuld my diocesan bishop be so inclined to do so I would support him whole heartedly.
    If I am so incline to teach and preach within the parish I serve that the present leaders of the national church and general convention or teaching and governing in a manner contrary to the traditional teaching of the church, I shall do so.
    Pax et Bonum,
    Fr. John Mark, OSF

    ReplyDelete
  2. Could someone explain to me what the connection would be between the petition filed by the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor seeking to intervene in the ongoing litigation in Pittsburgh and whether dioceses could/should be signatories to a future possible Anglican Covenant have to do with one another?

    I am at a loss. Has the litigation in Pittsburgh become entangled in the possible future Anglican Covenant? I thought that it was a purely civil matter regarding the attempted removal of Diocese of Pittsburgh property, real and personal, by the deposed former bishop and former members of that diocese.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Then, you can't complain, John Mark, if the rest of TEC doesn't "give a hang" about you.

    Really, shouldn't your closing after that screed have been "Pox et Bellum?"

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mark,

    Since when has ACI ever been a help?

    Or the AC, for that matter?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fr John Mark, OSF: what an arrogant post---completely at odds with the "traditional teaching of the church" "Pax" "Bonum" OR Blessed Francis.

    Her name is Doctor Katharine Jefferts Schori, and her title is Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Like Bonnie Anderson, she was elected to her position. Anderson and ++Jefferts Schori represent this Church. You and your "inclinations" represent what, exactly?

    Lord have mercy!

    ReplyDelete

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