Deposition and Recognition: A wee shell game.

Well, it's not a new gambit, and it's not a good gambit, but at least the ACN gambit is consistent in trying to sidestep the clear intent of the Canons of the Episcopal Church.

The news today: The Bishop of Virginia, Bishop Lee, has released 21 priests from
the ordained ministry.

Some of the Anglican Communion Network bishops have stated
that these priests are just fine with them, since they have left TEC and become priests of another Province with which TEC is in Communion, and therefore could not be inhibited by Bishop Lee. That means, in their minds, that these priests are indeed still priests, etc.

Here is what they had to say:

"As bishops, we ordain priests for the whole church. Surely we overstep our bounds when we attempt to decide for the whole church that a priest’s ministry is ended because he is no longer under our authority.

Because these Virginia priests are priests in good standing in the Provinces of Uganda and Nigeria, respectively, the deposition is, in fact, of no effect. Each is recognized as a priest in good standing of the Anglican Communion. Therefore we welcome them to exercise their sacerdotal ministries in our Dioceses."

As I understand the Canons, the deposition of a priest of this Church means that that person is not a priest recognized as such in this Church. Period. The fact that the clergy in question, without prior approval or letters giving their oversight to another bishop, have left The Episcopal Church for another church, is of no consequence, save to prove the charges.

If they have been deposed for abandoning this Church, then it stands as a deposition for the whole church. There are no provisions for a deposition being "undone" on the argument that the priest in question was no longer part of this Church precisely because the charge is that they have abandoned the communion of this Church. Priests are under the jurisdiction of a particular bishop and diocese until released for service elsewhere. These 21 priests were not so released.

So, The Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, the Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the. Rt. Rev. Jack Iker of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and the Rt. Rev. John David Schofield of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin stand in contravention of the Canons of The Episcopal Church by determining that the deposition by the Bishop of Virginia is "of no effect."

Who do these bishops think they are? And just where did they get their authority to simply deny the validity of deposition for reasons of abandonment? One may suppose these 21 priests are fine people and that they left for the best of reasons, etc, but they were not, it appears, released from the authority of their bishop. They left without release. They are therefore still bound.

These five bishops are the core of the Network on its way to being a new church. They have already abandoned attentive engagement with the Canons of The Episcopal Church.

There are other signs of this abandonment: The Moderator stated in his address to the ACN Annual Meeting,

"The Network Bishops have agreed to take part in the upcoming meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Primates Steering Committee and Anglican Consultative Council. We do so, some of us at least, without any implied recognition of or submission to the American primate ..." "Some at least," and I would suggest it is the core five, do not recognize the American Primate. This, of course, also makes it clear that such distinctly canonical matters as the election of the Presiding Bishop are able to be dismissed as well.

Looking at the statement of the core five, One half of the Network Bishops have made it clear that they consider the Canons of the Church to be without merit, at least in this instance.

It is of some interest to note those absent from the list of bishops receiving the 21 priests: Bishops Stanton of Dallas, Bishop Howe of Central Florida, Bishop Steeson of Rio Grande, Bishop Love of Albany, and a bishop for South Carolina.

By the way, NO ONE is a "priest in good standing of the Anglican Communion." We are priests in good standing in our own churches (Provinces) and at the sufferance of other provinces may exercise ministry there, but we have no rights to do so.


  1. Mark,

    I was going to write about this today, so I pulled my copy of the Canons off the shelf to read up on all this.

    Title IV says that one has abandoned the Communion (and I'm doing this from memory, at home now) by violating Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship; by joining a church not in communion with the Episcopal Church, or for some "other" reason. That last one is the vague "catch all" I guess.

    So these priests joined other Anglican provinces. Setting aside for a second the fact that some of these primates have declared themselves in impaired or broken communion with ECUSA, I can't see how this is abandoning the church. They have joined other Anglican Churches that are, from ECUSA's standpoint, in communion with us. At most, under the canons, it seems that they're guilty of bad manners or failure to obtain Letters Dimissory or something. IANACL.

    Our Canons have all sorts of things about receiving clergy from other churches, but almost zilch on clergy *joining* other churches in Communion with us.

    So, if they're guilty of a Title IV offense, I'd like to understand it a bit better. Perhaps motive plays into it, and the attempts to remove property, etc., qualify them for "other."

    Given their failure to notify their bishop of their intent to leave, and their attempts to take property etc., I'd like to see the "deposable" offense, but I just can't find it in the Canons. Can you help me here?


  2. Mark,

    My last comment ran long, but there's one other thing. I whole-heartedly agree with your main point. Now that the clergy have been deposed, these bishops have no place declaring themselves outside the law. A much better strategy would have been an attempt to either appeal the deposition or press charges against +Lee for something or other.

    I don't understand why these conservatives think they can try to steal property and ignore Canons.


  3. Why would the bishop of Virginia not be gracious and release these priests from his authority, rather than depose them as priests? It seems that canonical fundamentalism applies in ECUSA before any consideration of graciousness and generosity towards those who hold to a more traditional view of Scripture and human sexuality. As far as anyone else in the Anglican Communion is concerned these men are still priests, validly ordained and are now canonically resident in another diocese.

    It is a bit trite to argue that they are not in good standing in the Anglican Communion when they are in good standing with their present Anglican bishop. They have not abandoned nor contravened their vows to uphold Biblical teaching and proper administration of the sacraments. I recall in another case a priest asked to be released from the authority of his diocesan bishop only to be deposed and depriested - which is exactly what he did not ask for. Where is the grace, tolerance, generosity and love in this kind of treatment of goldy men by bishops who are more canonical fundamentalists than Christian?

  4. I should like to hope that the absence of the signatures of Bishops Howe, Love, Steenson & Stanton from this statement is significant (& encouraging?).

    I do feel sorry for Bishop Love, but I fear he will be judged by the company he keeps.

    As for SC, logic would require that they admit that Chuck Murphy was right all along & submit to his authority :)

  5. Scott and Brian:

    I think there are problems with the Canons on this, to be sure. What happens when someone decides to leave this church for another, believing that this church is on some level profoundly wrong? The pries is not likely to ask the bishop to be released from obedience to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this church and given over to another bishop in another province.

    When life is good and all is well this happens all the time. There is no formal required letters outside the confines of TEC, but in general the priest's bishop releases the priest to the care and oversight of the receiving bishop, and the priest is removed from the list of clergy of this church and becomes part of the clergy of another Province. On other occasions a priest of one province may be licensed in a diocese of another province without a formal move from one to the other. This ought to be by mutual agreement of the priest's bishop and the bishop of the receiving church. It often is.

    In good times when things are well this can all get pretty sloppy, but in these days of background checks there is more care taken, I believe.

    But in bad times when things are not going well, it is another matter.

    Someone who has broken with their bishop, submitted to direction from a bishop of another church that the priest believes is faithful to the Gospel, and has done so without release from their own bishop, has violated the canons of the church and I believe the spirit, if not the words, of their ordination vows.

    I believe the matter could have been handled differently on one level. Bishop Lee could have asked the priests to write him asking for release to another Province. He in turn could have granted that. He would still have to declare that these are no longer priests in TEC and therefore have no continuing relationship with church agencies that support specifically Episcopal Church clergy.

    Because these priests intend to operate in the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Virginia, but outside his jurisdiction, the bishop also has to make it clear that they are NOT priests in good standing in TEC and that he is in no way responsible for them, or to them.

    Disposition may seem harsh, but it is necessary.

    Are these priests still priests? Sure. Are they members of the clergy of TEC. NO. They admit the same. The deposition simply admits what is true.

    The five bishops who have welcomed them as priests "in the Anglican Communion" may seem to be the good guys in a bad play, but they are not. Deposition is by a bishop but the deposition is from ordained ministry in the whole of this Church. What the 5 bishops are doing is contrary to the Canons.

    At least that is how I read it.

    Fr. Jake, as usual has an interesting read on this.

  6. Possibly the deposition was the equivalent of a chess move:

    • Bishop Lee advances a pawn by deposing the 21 clergy.

    • The five Network bishops hurriedly capture the pawn by announcing that they continue to recognize the 21's ordinations.

    • But in doing this, the +Five open themselves up to presentment for violation of the canons.

    Some might argue that the violation is technical and immaterial. But at least it would be a clear-cut cause of action that technically would warrant deposing the +Five and declaring their sees vacant.

    Then the real "fun" (not) would begin.

  7. Mark - I think you have nailed it when you say - "Because these priests intend to operate in the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Virginia, but outside his jurisdiction, the bishop also has to make it clear that they are NOT priests in good standing in TEC and that he is in no way responsible for them, or to them."

    Do we think that the Canons as currently written anticipated the the current situation - in the jurisdiction of DoVA. but outside the bishops's jurisdiction, under the jurisdiction of another bishop who is a part of a Province in the AC, but who is not recognized by Lambeth?

  8. cross posted by TA:

    My understanding is that Bishop Minns worked out an arrangement with Bishop Lee to continue as interim rector for the remainder of the year -- the others required letters dismissory if they were transferring to another church in communion with The Episcopal Church (of course the Nigerian church is not in communion with TEC, according to its primate, but many Nigerians in this country think that they are, including at least one bishop -- the situation is confusing)

    And it seems to me that the bishops named have repeatedly violated their ordination vows -- if they think TEC apostate, the only honorable thing to do is leave (IMHO)

  9. I think we don't often enough make clear that our action is "deposition:" clarifying the loss of position and authority within the institution, without remarking on the efficacy of ordination or continuing vocation. As Mark notes, the actions of Bishop Lee and the Virginia Standing Committee simply make explicit and official what is functionally true already.

    By the same token, these five bishops chose the most the most confrontational way to state their position. Had they said, "We recognize their positions in their new jurisdictions and may choose to license them if they come to our dioceses," I think we would be saying they were ill advised, but not that this clearly flouted canons. I think they were particularly interested in choosing inflammatory language.

  10. Is there some reason they haven't been taken under the episcopal jurisdiction of Nigeria? Why hasn't Akinola or Minns claimed them? They apparently serve parishes associated with CANA. They voted to leave the Episcopal Church. The churches are apparently aligned with Nigeria (or so they claim). Why not the clergy as well? Or, is this about staying in the pension plan and keeping the health insurance?

  11. So here is a question: given that they have their new holy homes in the grand army of hopeless homophobia (CANA) why do they care? Or is it just possible that if the new deal tanks they want to be able to sneak back in through Dallas or some other pseudo-episcopal entryway?

    Call me suspicious.


  12. In granting the benefit of doubt to our sister churches, I wonder how their canons read regarding recognition of holy orders. Most of our conversation centers on our canons that require letters dimissory for priests to leave to another location. My experience as a lay person living abroad, was that TEC's system of letters of transfer was an anomaly. Baptismal records stayed at the church where baptism occurred and the laity did not transfer membership as we are accustomed. Perhaps our sister churches in the Anglican Communion have other provisions for receiving clergy into the church.

    Paul Colbert+

  13. The Virginia clergy are all residents and priests (and bishop-elect) in good standing not only in the provinces of Uganda and Nigeria (some are resident in Uganda and some in Nigeria through CANA). Their orders continue to be recognized in the Global South provinces, some dioceses in the Church of England, and at least five dioceses in The Episcopal Church (there are more, in fact - these five represent both Anglo Catholics and evangelical bishops).

    Bishop Lee did not follow the canons, he chose a canon that would not include an ecclesiastical trial where these clergy could defend themselves, or have other sitting diocesan bishops speak on their behalf, including bishops in the Church of England and the Global South and the Episcopal Church itself.

    But that would not help 815's case in discovery for the November trial. No, it would not. And that is what is driving Bishop Lee's unfortunate actions. It's all about the lawsuits. Pretty, isn't it?

    In addition, it was a staged public act of humiliation designed not to punish these clergy - because the act has no meaning, the clergy continue to be ordained clergy in good standing in their Anglican Communion provinces - but to frighten other Virginia clergy (and other TEC clergy) from doing the same thing.

    What it ended up doing, however, was illustrate that the division is deepening not only in the Anglican Communion, but in the Episcopal Church itself.

    When we have one diocesan bishop pronouncing a defrocking of twenty clergy in one fell swoop, while other sitting diocesan bishops reject that pronouncement - we have division.

    We could also go into the fact that this was an administrative disaster. One priest who was inhibited never left TEC (he voted no) but wanted to remain at The Falls Church with John Yates blessing (it was The Falls Church's way of reaching out to those who wanted to remain in the Diocese of Virginia). But that would have been charitable and Bishop Lee inhibited that priest anyway, even though that priest immediately told Bishop Lee he had voted no. Bishop Lee did not lift the inhibition and now his press flak is saying that this priest had changed his mind. That's a complete fabrication. Make no mistake about it.

    The list of clergy defrocked by Bishop Lee includes two members of the Executive Board, the Diocesan Chair of the Church Planting Committee, members of the Diocesan Task Force on Reconciliation, and the Bishop's own Special Committee that produced the Protocol for Departing Churches. One of the clergy Bishop Lee on this list is his wife's own cousin. Wonder what Thanksgiving will be like at their house?

    No one has abandoned the Communion. Did you see, Mark, that Bishop Lee's statement uses the capital "C" for the Communion of the Episcopal Church? He seems to think, with advice no doubt from Mr. Booth Beers, that the Episcopal Church is a Communion unto itself. Which frankly is how it's been behaving for years. It's just not true. And that is why we are in this state of crisis.

    The Episcopal Church is not a Communion unto itself. It is a province in a Communion. None of these clergy have abandoned the Communion, none of them have become Roman Catholic priests or Baptist ministers or Jewish or Muslim. They are and continue to be Anglican clergy, residents of the provinces of the Anglican provinces of Uganda and Nigeria, recognized by Anglican bishops in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Global South, England, and the United States - all of which recognize that these priests are in good standing in the provinces in which they now reside.


  14. Never underestimate the importance of health insurance. Bishop Iker (et al.) should put his money where his mouth is. Or is the Archbishop of Nigeria paying the premiums?

  15. Baby Blue sez
    "recognized by Anglican bishops in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Global South..."

    Huh??? Is this wishful thinking?

  16. Reading minds, eh BB?

    BTW, I think you forgot something:

    the priest must be in good standing of the diocese
    h e
    i s
    l e a v i n g.

    If he isn't, that's it.

  17. Reasserters seem to want to blame Bishop Lee for the spectacle of defroking 21 priests "in one fell swoop" when it was the spectacle of 21 priests abandoning TEC in one fell swoop that caused necessitated the response.

    Rev. Lubelfeld may not have elected to "leave TEC" but somehow thought he could self-elect "the remain" in service to a rector and parishioners who had. Contrast that with what happened at Grace Church were the associate pastor chose to remain in service to those who did NOT elect to leave and you might understand why Bishop Lee inhibited him and did not lift the inhibition until Lubelfeld agree to serve at a loyal TEC church.

  18. Here is the problem with transfer of clergy to CANA, Nigeria, etc..: From the point of view of the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church, the clergy are operating illegally within the diocesan boundaries. Nigeria HAS no jurisdiction within the United States. I'm still waiting for The Episcopal Church to establish a "missionary diocese" in Nigeria.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, 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.