(Since first posting Tuesday one small correction and several additional helpful items have come to my attention. Thanks to Fr. Jake, Ann and the Living Church.)
The Bishop of Pittsburgh, The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, has been found by the Title IV Review Committee to have abandoned the Communion. The three senior bishops with jurisdiction who must concur are not in agreement. He is not therefore inhibited at this time although that is a distinct possibility that the House of Bishops will find him to have abandoned the Communion in the future anyway. Read the full story HERE. See Fr. Jake's take and clarification of the process HERE.
This slow process of holding the Bishop of Pittsburgh accountable for his actions is grinding slowly to its conclusion. Because it works its way slowly there will be ample opportunity for accusations of persecution and the hounding of dissenters to arise from all quarters of the Anglican Communion. Equally frustrated will be those who have believed that Bishop Duncan has clearly moved out of the communion of this Church and wish the Church would act justly and quickly.
But it appears that all of this will slowly grind through the first half of this year.
The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church are understood by few, hated by some and considered arcane by many, but there's one thing to say for them: they often allow for fairly nuanced distinctions in decision making. They also grind slowly.
The process in place for determining that a Bishop has abandoned the communion of this Church is complex and entails a variety of checks. The Presiding Bishop, the Title IV Review Committee and the three senior bishops with jurisdiction and finally the whole House of Bishops are involved. Interestingly very few lay persons or priests are consulted. But, it is what it is: an instrument of the Church's discipline that grinds slowly and makes fine distinctions.
The removal from the ministry is a judgment that is of value only to members of the faithful community that are willing to live by and with the promises they made at baptism and for the ordained at their ordination.
Bishop John David Schofield was inhibited just this week and has been given to understand that in two months he is subject to being deposed. He is arguing that none of this makes any difference, since he has left the Episcopal Church and joined the Province of the Southern Cone. But of course it makes a great deal of difference to him and to all of us. He came into the ordained ministry, into the office of bishop, having made a solemn vow to live with the judgments as well as the privileges that derived from his engagement in the ministry to which he was called. By not being willing to accept the disciplinary judgments of the Church in which he took those vows he is renouncing the vow he took.
It is immaterial whether or not he is still part of the Episcopal Church. He swore his willingness to conform to the discipline of the Church in which he exercised the office of bishop and in which he could be relieved of that office. He has now broken that vow.
The Title IV Review Committee and the three senior bishops with jurisdiction both agreed that Bishop Schofield ought to be inhibited and his case presented to the House of Bishops for their vote on his deposition. In his actions in defiance of that order of inhibition he is sealing the judgment.
Now Bishop Duncan has been charged by the Title IV Committee with abandonment of the communion of this Church. There has not been concurrence in this matter by the three senior bishops, but there are decisions still to be made by the House of Bishops as a whole. More to the point, the actions of Bishop Duncan in the coming months may or may not make the truth of the charge evident. The Presiding Bishop note that in her letter to Bishop Duncan, ""I would, however, welcome a statement by you within the next two months providing evidence that you once more consider yourself fully subject to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church."
The Presiding Bishop is giving Bishop Duncan the opportunity to affirm the vows he made as a bishop upon ordination. Unwillingness to do so is an indication that he too is traveling down the path laid out by Bishop Schofield and that the Review Committee was correct in their judgment. Willingness to do so would make inhibition, if it were to be imposed, a matter of safety for the Church until such time as the whole House of Bishops could decide the merits of the case. Willingness to do so would be a sign that perhaps the Review Committee's judgment was too severe.
Either way matters are not being put on hold until such time as the Diocese of Pittsburgh follows San Joaquin and votes to leave the Episcopal Church. This time the matter is at hand now. Does the Bishop of Pittsburgh intend to stand by the promises he made at his ordination or not? This is no longer about possibilities for the Diocese in the future. It is about whether or not the Bishop of Pittsburgh considers himself, and is considered by the House of Bishops, to be a member of this Church.
Slow, perhaps. But it is time for the Bishop of Pittsburgh to make his intentions clear and to be clearly accountable to the Church in which he derived commission and license as bishop.
Note: The Diocese of Pittsburgh site quotes Bishop Duncan as saying, “Few bishops have been more loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church. I have not abandoned the Communion of this Church. I will continue to serve and minister as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh."
It is time to read the report of the Title IV Committee in full.