There are times when following the story of the Episcopal Church in these difficult times of internal strife and ecclesial invasion from without gets a bit complex. Matters are made all the more difficult when these take place against the background of the slow and painful demise of the American Empire. So it takes a bit of doing to get a grip on what is happening in The Episcopal Church these days.
Reference to "Title IV" of the Canons of the Episcopal Church is not usually newsworthy. In the past week, however, Title IV has come up on several occasions:
(i) At Executive Council the issue of costs related to various legal matters growing out of Title IV concerns was raised.
(ii) Bishop Bennison of Pennsylvania has been inhibited pending the review by the Title IV review committee.
(iii) Bishop Robert Duncan has been warned that if he and the Diocese of Pittsburgh change their constitution so that unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church is assured, he might well be understood to have abandoned the communion of this church, under Title IV.
Title IV of the Canons of the Episocpal Church covers matters of ecclesiastical discipline. In Bishop Bennison's case, matters of conduct in relation to his pastoral responsibilities, in the matter of the clergy and bishops aligning with other provinces or denying their oaths of obedience, their ecclesial responsibilities.
The property issues arise from another canon, Title I 7 4.1. But those issues intersect with Title IV issues when it is by virtue of the abandonment of the communion of this Church that the claim is made by the leaving bishop or clergy that they continue to have the right of use of the facilities they held while part of The Episcopal Church.
The problem is that the keys continue to be in the hands of the now deposed or otherwise absent clergy. Getting the keys back takes place against the background of the rights of the clergy, which arose as a matter of right by their inclusion in the clergy of this church.
In Bishop Bennison's case he has had the keys taken away from him by inhibition. In Bishop Duncan's case it appears the Church is saying that if it is shown that he has abandoned the communion of this Church, the Church will demand the keys back.
Regrettably there is considerable history concerning the need for inhibition. Bishop Bennison may or may not finally be cleared or convicted; for the moment he is inhibited.
There are some instances of the interplay between property issues and clerical abandonment of the communion of this Church, some involving bishops. Most notable in recent years has been the case of the now deposed bishop of Central Ecuador. Bishop Neptali Larrea was deposed following his abandonment of the church amidst charges of financial mismanagement. He subsequently took with him much of the real property of the Diocese and over the past several years the Diocese has recovered much of what was taken.
As with all clergy, Bishops are to be held to account both for their pastoral and managerial actions and for their ecclesial oaths taken at the time of their ordination. The actions by the Episcopal Church in both these cases is a matter of attending to accountability.
Attending to these matters is expensive and church members have every reason to want to know just what it costs to follow through with the litigation related to bringing people to account. Some of this is spoken to in a recent posting of The Episcopal News Service. But we must at the same time realize that the cost of not holding people accountable would lead to an abandonment by the Church of pastoral, ecclesial, managerial and fiduciary responsibility .
The matter most important, of course, is the accountability we have to the Lord Jesus Christ, one which is beyond the purview of any canon. At one time or another those held accountable on other matters have laid claim to this greater accountability. When the church has none the less demanded the person cease functioning as a member of the clergy (inhibition) or has asserted that the person has abandoned the communion of this Church, the only recourse has been to leave, claiming the higher ground.
Which is why all temporal judgment is subject to divine judgment. But that is, indeed, a matter for another day. Suffice to say that on that day the judgment of the comparative silence of the Church on matters of accountability in the last days of the American Empire will make judgment of the Church's actions re Title IV seems pale by comparison. Still, there is reason to suppose that if we are persistent in small matters we might also be persistent in great ones.