Three Bishops and the difficulty in issuing an inhibition. (updated)

In 1984 three men were made bishop (at that time only men were as yet being made bishops): Leopold Frade (780), Peter James Lee (785) and Don A. Wimberly (789). (the numbers being their accession number in the American Episcopate.) They have been at it a long time - 23 years each - and have in total served in five dioceses as diocesan. They are now the senior serving bishops with jurisdiction in the Episcopal Church and have served with distinction.

At least two of these bishops have close connections with Bishop Duncan, recently found by the Title IV Review Committee to have abandoned the communion of this Church. It remains for the House of Bishops to determine if the evidence for this finding and Bishop Duncan's subsequent responses warrants the deposing of Bishop Duncan.

These three members of the class of 1984
were not able to concur as a group in inhibiting Bishop Duncan from the exercise of his ministry until the House of Bishops might decide for or against deposition. These three clearly believed that inhibition was in order in the case of the Bishop of San Joaquin. They were not disposed to make the same decision this time.

The matter of inhibition is a difficult one. In any organization where an em
ployee is under investigation, whose employment might be terminated, the organization has to determine if that person ought to be relieved of duties immediately for the duration of the investigation. The primary reason for such inhibition is to reduce the likelihood of malicious actions against the institution in that period. Institutional sabotage is a reality. In the case of an ecclesiastical institution that sabotage also includes the possibilities of inappropriate pastoral behavior. We see this sort of inhibition regularly in cases where clergy are accused of fiscal or sexual impropriety.

In the case of a bishop charged with abandonment of the Communion inhibition would in part be so that that bishop could not, in the period leading up to a meeting and vote by the House of Bishops, exercise ministry in ways detrimental to the Diocese as part of the Episcopal Church. The three senior bishops saw that possibility clearly in the case of Bishop Schofield. They apparently did not see the need for inhibition with Bishop Duncan.

( Bishop Wimberly has written, and Episcopal Cafe has posted a comment regarding his reasons for not giving consent. See HERE.)

Bishop Schofield has been clear: He believes he has left the Episcopal Church and that a large majority of his clergy and people have left with him. It is clear that inhibition is the only course, if for no other reason then to make it legally clear that he no longer exercises ministry as a bishop of the Episcopal Church, even as we await the vote of the House of Bishops to confirm that he has indeed abandoned this Church.

Bishop Duncan, on the other hand, protests that he is indeed acting in compliance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Those who agree with him offer the evidence that the Diocese of Pittsburgh, under his leadership, has not as yet left the Episcopal Church. Evidence to the contrary includes massive documentation of Bishop Duncan's pronouncements that he believes the Diocese and he are set upon a path that leads to separation from the Episcopal Church. He has not done a "Schofield" yet, but he promises he will.

Is that enough to warrant inhibition? Apparently not. However, the finding of the Title IV Review Committee stands - that he has abandoned the communion. The House of Bishops has to deal with that matter later this year.

I do not know what the relation was between any of the three senior bishops and Bishop Schofield, made bishop in 1988, (832), but at least two of these bishops have had close relations with Bishop Duncan, ordained in 1996 (916), 136 bishops after Bishop Frade.

Bishop Peter Lee was rector of the Chapel of the Cross and Bishop Duncan was on staff with him there as chaplain at the University of North Carolina. They have in the past been close friends. Bishop Lee is listed as one of his three chief consecrators.

Whatever their former relationship, Bishop Don Wimberly as Bishop of Texas initiated the discussions of the group that came to be known as the "Windsor Bishops," a group that met first at Camp Allen, in the Diocese of Texas. Bishop Duncan was part of those discussions and some of those who gathered continued in conversation with the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes for some time.

Bishop Frade in his remarkable ministry first in Honduras and then in Southeast Florida has made many contacts with bishops over the years. I don't know of any particular relationship between Bishops Frade and Duncan, but would not be surprised if there was a connection.

Part of the problem of the Canonical requirement that there be concurrence of three senior bishops in inhibiting is that the elder bishops are likely to know almost all the members of the house in some way that borders on conflict of interest. Of course one can argue that this is not a problem but a gift. That is, because of all the connections no senior member is likely to take inhibition lightly.

The three senior bishops have done what they are able to do. It cannot have been easy in either case. Now the matter goes to the full House. The canons say nothing of the possibility of the three making a further effort to give consent for inhibition on the basis of further actions by the Bishop of Pittsburgh.

As I read it, once the Title IV Review Committee has made its finding, the Presiding Bishop is obligated by Canon (Title IV: 9) to certify that the finding has been presented and to bring the matter to the House for their vote. The vote is on the declaration made by the Title IV Review Committee: That Bishop Duncan has abandoned the communion of this Church.

All of this is difficult for the three senior members, I am sure. I find it difficult to watch this unfold. Bishop Duncan was at important times in my life a friend and highly supportive of my ministry. We have not easily related in the past few years and my sense is that we are so at odds on the matters before the church that we are estranged. Neither of us has been abandoned by God, and I truly believe we have not actually abandoned each other either. But Bishop Duncan is set upon another path and at some point this church will have to decide that he has indeed abandoned the communion of this church.

I also know all three of the senior bishops: Bishop Frade in his ministry as bishop of Honduras while I was in World Mission at the Church Center; Bishop Lee who was co-chair of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop; Bishop Wimberly with whom I traveled in South East Asia and who served on the same Nominating Commmittee. I know this work cannot have been easy for them.

The Presiding Bishop, in her letter to Bishop Duncan, began, "I am sorry to have to tell you..." That sorrow, I believe, is real. What is being done is necessary and I think right. The Title IV Review Committee discharged its duty as it saw fit. The Presiding Bishop is doing what the Canons require. It is moving forward.

Yet this is not an occasion for triumphal thinking, it is a somber and in many ways tragic unfolding of the lives of people bound together by faith delivered, not once to the saints, but many times in many places to the sinner-saints who constitute the Episcopal Church and the other churches of the Anglican Communion.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette quotes Bishop Duncan who said, "This very small minority here, which has sought redress in the civil courts, has now turned to the ecclesiastical courts. The senior bishops of the church were unprepared to accept their allegations, all of which derive from very public statements over the past five years, as the basis for removing me without even the benefit of a trial. I think they will succeed no better in ecclesiastical court than they have in the civil courts," he said.

"I have been a faithful bishop of this church. I am a son of this church. My only offense is to have opposed the doctrinal and moral drift of this church and to bear in the House of Bishops all manner of anger and at times even derision."

I have suggested earlier "Because (the process of considering deposition) 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."

I am sorry to observe that this is already appearing in the complaint by Bishop Duncan that he has had "to bear in the House of Bishops all manner of anger and at times even derision."

Bishop Duncan's opposition to "the doctrinal and moral drift of this church" has taken the form of engineering the formation of a federation of Anglican Christians in North America, whose purpose is "to ensure an orthodox Anglican Province in North America that remains connected to a faithful global Communion." That 'orthodox' Anglican Province is NOT the Episcopal Church, and the faithful global Communion is NOT the Anglican Communion as currently understood.

The feelings that Bishop Duncan has concerning his treatment in the House of Bishops may or may not have merit. Surely he has been in a minority position there. But he has also absented himself from meetings of the House of Bishops and has refused to receive communion with the Presiding Bishop and others. He has been known to attend meetings only for purposes of speaking out and then leaving.

More, he lends support to by his presence and perhaps his sacramental engagement at ordinations in Episcopal Church jurisdictions of bishops for churches who have broken communion with the Episcopal Church, knowing that those bishops were ordained for ministry in this jurisdiction.

At some point the House of Bishops must determine if Bishop Duncan has abandoned them and the Episcopal Church. That will be a necessarily difficult day, but it will have to come.


  1. Unconvincing to me, write John 2007.

    There is nothing of necessity i what KJS is doing and nothing that prevents her from seeking negotiated settelements with parishes, even whole dioceses, much less disaffected bishops. There is nothing that prevents her from helping--gasp!imagine that!-- other brothers and sisters in the Lord find their place in this time of realignment. Nothing. Just imagine what it would be like if we had a PB who really worked through these issues in a way that allowed dissenting parishes and dioceses to realign (and as Duncan has repeatedly requested, allowed genuine, fair negotiations to take place over property so that it could be taken off the table for, no matter what any opponents say, Duncan has never been after property). The model followed in Kansas City by Dean Wolfe surely would work, and why not?

    Instead, KJS and others would rather invoke a canon clearly not intended to deal with someone who still subscribes lock, stock and barrel to the Creeds, the BCP, and the canons of the church to inflict pain and embarrassment. There is not canonical reason why KJS and others (and GC) could not devise a way to issue letters dimissory and transfer Duncan and others to the province they want to be aligned with. Yes, there would be costs to such a policy. But, my goodness, going after Duncan in this way is atrocious.

  2. In Para 3, I think "deposed" should be "disposed".

    Bunker Hill
    Spearfish SD

  3. anonymous #2...bunker hill, Spearfish SD... good eye. Thanks.

    anonymous #1...Bishop Schofield has not asked to be relieved as bishop of San Joaquin, thereby making letters dimissory or some equivalent transfer mechanism a possibility. Bishop Duncan seems not to be interested in leaving by permission either. Active bishops in TEC may not give up their positions without permission from the HoB nor can they change venues, nor can they resign or retire without permission.

    Of course Bishop Duncan can leave, along with those who think he is right. When they leave that does not mean that the work of the Episcopal Church is over in the Pittsburgh jurisdiction. It means that a number of people who were Episcopalians are not now Episcopalians.

    You are wrong regarding KJS. She is not working to invoke the canon in order to "inflict pain an embarrassment." She is working to make it clear that the Moderator's hard work in putting together an alternative Anglican presence in America so that when the diocesan constitution is changed (in contravention of TEC Constitutions and Canons) is deliberately undermining the unreserved accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

    If Bishop Duncan wants out,fine. If he doesn't better. But he is working to get out and claiming to be in. Not so good.

  4. Anonymous,

    The difficulty lies in the fact that neither +Schofield, nor +Iker or +Duncan, have requested letters of dismissal and transference into another Province. How could the PB or the HoB transfer them to another Province without their request?

    Had they resigned their respective positions as the Episcopal diocesan bishop and then proceeded to be accepted as bishops in other provinces... then the current situation would be quite different.

    The most pressing problem is not the actions of these bishops, per se (though their actions are troublesome). Rather, the pressing problem is that these bishops are engaging in these activities without first honestly resigning as TEC bishops.

  5. John 2007 writes:

    How a whole diocese is related to the national church is one of the question under debate. The supporters of KJS seem to be laboring under some view of historical necessity or determinism. And the characterizations of Duncan trying to set up an alternative branch or structure of Anglicanism within the US reveals those who use such language have a strange world view. It's as if we are businesses making widgets who are after the same market share of the population. Hardly a gospel based world-view. (And KJS gave the game away when she said in her deposition that she would have no problem with the Diocese of VA selling The Falls Church property to another denomination.)

    Just as a thought experiment: Pretend that God wants a peaceful, charitable realignment--just use that word for awhile in this thought experiment--of the Anglican Communion. What might those entrusted with power do, or have done, to make this possible? I think a reasonable answer is that they would have worked through things patiently (as Peter Lee began to do in some respects) and let it happen. There could have been lots of ways of fashioning lots of agreements and policies for transfers. But that has not happened. Why not?

    Now, to Mark Harris' point about "unreserved accession" to the Constitutions and Canons of ECUSA, I repeat, that is what is at issue. It is amazing that those of the left allow a fundamental teaching of Christianity to be changed (and never took out after Spong BTW for outright denials of core doctrine) on the grounds that new things happen, but don't allow for new alignments to happen.

    And, of course, they never show any sense of thinking maybe, just maybe the fracturing of the communion might mean they should rethink their positions, their methods, and their current stance.

  6. And, of course, were either abandoning bishop to request transfer, that would if granted, vacate the diocese. If Bp. Duncan or Mr. Schofield wish to leave peaceably, they can. They simply cannot steal the church's property on the way out.

    The lie that Bp. Katherine or anyone else seeks to force them out is really getting old. No one did anything to San J or Mr. Schofield before he and the convention claimed they could steal our property on the way to Bolivia or wherever it is they think they now are.


  7. John 2007... you may not like what I had to say at the time, but on the supposition that I am a liberal (although I think of myself in somewhat different terms)you might be interested to know that I responded to Bishop Spong at the time he wrote his 12 theses. You can see that response here: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/harris2spng.html

    I have had many interesting conversations since then with Bishop Spong. I appreciate his struggles and he mine.

    Don't give me this 'left' business...

  8. Thank you, Mark, for helping frame this difficulty in terms of human relationships.

    Your post reminded me that it's enourmously important to get past the sensational nature of inhibitions and lawsuits. We need to mourn, to grieve for a time over what has been lost when a church or a diocese leaves. The leaving may be necessary, and may even lead some or all parties to renewal, but it is still painful. That pain and brokenness needs attention.

  9. John 2007 assumes that the presentment against Bishop Duncan popped ex nihilo out of Bishop Katharine's head. In fact, the proceedings began with a detailed complaint signed by nearly two dozen clergy and laity in good standing in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Once a properly filed complaint has been issued and the status of the persons making the complaint are found to be competent, the process has a life of it's own.

    As for Bishop Schofield, he has been very clear that he has left the Episcopal Church and joined another Church, albiet an Anglican one. Now Schofield could have resigned and, following our canons, applied to the HOB for transfer to the other jurisdiction. Instead, he chose the route he did: to actively plan, encourage and execute a vote of (at best) dubious legality to try to remove the whole diocese to the jurisdiction he chose to join. Again, once he stated clearly that he was no longer an Episcopal Bishop, the process has begun and is, as Mark stated downstream, is moving along at the designed pace.

    Schofield's process should be a mere technicality for him. He says it has no effect on him because he is no longer an Episcopal bishop. But then he cries "martyr!" because the Church he left is following through the consequences of the actions that Schofield initiated and says he welcomes.

    To imagine that God wants a peaceful realignment is a nice thought game, but it assumes that both side act with equal honesty, integrity and openness. Instead, the dissenting priests seek to use our own processes, not to mention our own desire for mutual respect, against us.

    Duncan, Schofield and Iker have asked to negotiate over things that they know that neither our Constitution/Canons nor the several state laws allow. They know that the Church has a moral and fiduciary responsibility to the whole church. And their desire for negotiations assume that they will at the end have the freedom to do as they please, and the Episcopal Church should violate our own polity to allow them that freedom. That is not good faith negotiation. It is manipulation, posturing and a kind of leadership that is unbecoming Bishops of the Church.

    Andrew Gerns+

  10. These are minor details in an otherwise weighty discussion, but in the interest of accuracy and clarity please note that the correct title of Bishop Lee's former parish in Chapel Hill is the Chapel of the Cross, not Holy Cross; and that as chaplain at UNC, Bishop Duncan was fully on the staff of the Chapel of the Cross and was employed by then Rector Peter James Lee.

  11. Canon Harris says "Bishop Duncan is set upon another path and at some point this church will have to decide that he has indeed abandoned the communion of this church."

    I can see the logic....and it leads me to say, "The AC is set upon another (covenant) path and at some point TEC will have to stick to its principles and decide that it is not in communion with the AC."

  12. anonymous...(at least the one who wrote about Bishop Lee and Bishop Duncan at Chapel Hill. Thanks... made the corrections.

  13. Oh come on, Mark. You reference that essay to Spong as proving you're not on the left? It conclusively proves you ARE on the left, to those of us reading it who aren't of the left.

    You don't defend the physical resurrection. You don't defend the virgin birth. You don't really defend Theism.

    It makes you sound like a non-Christian.

    Now, I happen to believe you are a Christian, but that essay is not the way to prove it.

  14. There have always been two options the Church faces in dealing with bishops who compromise their ordination vows and deprecate or depart from the Episcopal Church.

    Presentment is one way: and it sets in motion a very long and unbelievably expensive and nasty trial process which is very demanding as far as evidence is concerned, in which much dirty laundry is aired publicly, and in which the ecclesiastical court tends always to be prejudiced towards acquittal. (Remember the presentments against Bishop Righter and Bishop Schofield.)

    The second approach is to charge the "abandonment of Communion". This avoids the machinery and cost (and the likelihood of acquittal) of a trial. The standards of evidence are much lower, and the only actors involved are the accusers, the Review Committee, the 3 senior bishops (for inhibition), and the HoB. The cost is slashed to a fraction, most of the nasty messiness is by-passed, and the results are "cleaner".

    That is why in any number of these cases (e.g., the Connecticut parishes) the charge of abandonment is far and away the best way to go -- and, curiously, it should even be the preferred way for the accused, since the nastiness of breaking of vows and/or betrayal of fiduciary responsibility, or defect in pastoral oversight (etc.) don't appear on the record and don't reflect on the accused's personal integrity so badly.

    The problem this approach presents is that even if s/he is under inhibition, it leaves a lot of political, financial, and practical power in the hands of the accused for at least two months. And that is what is "new" in the present circumstances and was not considered in the original faming of the canonical pathways to deposition.

    This is a generous and "just" loophole to offer time for the accused to recant, but some other canonical procedure needs to be put in place which would remain just, but would cover that loophole. In secular justice, the accused could simply be put in jail to stop further depredation, but that is clearly too medieval for ecclesiastical situations.

    I hope that canon lawyers across the Church are giving serious consideration to changes which would protect both the Church and the accused in these unanticipated circumstances.

  15. Yawner...what I wrote about Bishop Spong's 12 theses was not to prove I was a Christian, or not. It was to say what I thought of his theses.

    Of course I'm on the Left...but that is not mostly how I think of myself... oh well!

  16. The problem with using abandonment to avoid a trial before the court for the trial of a bishop is that it leaves its own bad taste. The, "accused" does not get a trial, can complain that the event is political, and that had a chance to state the case had existed, they might have prevailed. Cf. Conn 6 cases. Americans tend to like the idea that a person gets their "day in court."

    Laity don't much care if there is an open hearing of the nasty things priests want to cover up. We tend to seek justice.

    By the bye, Fr. J-J, I saw Bob B. yesterday, his leg is healing well.



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.