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 employee 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.