In a previous post "A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On: The Canons and Deposing Persons" I argued that
- The quorum for conducting business in the House of Bishops is measured by 50%+1 of the whole number of bishops in the House of Bishops, excluding those who are resigned. That number at the 2006 General Convention was 63. Sixty-three members of the house constituted enough of the membership to do business. At each meeting of the House of Bishops such a quorum number is devised and the House is declared on that basis to have sufficient members to undertake actions on behalf of the House. In actual voting there could be considerably more than 63 persons present and normal voting would mean that 50%+1 of the whole number of bishops in that meeting would decide on any issue.
- There being no requirement that the whole house (all 300) be polled on deposition, either by directing some form of vote by mail or by compelling attendance, and indeed no mechanism to require that the House, when meeting, would have to exercise a second opinion as to whether the vote could go forward, the assumption that vote by a majority of the whole membership of the house, present or not, was required is just that, an assumption.
- My sense was that the necessary quorum was present and that the House was thereby empowered to act regarding deposition, and that the language was there to make sure it was understood that voting members could include bishops who were not counted in the decision to establish a quorum. That is, the quorum was established by the number of bishops less those who were resigned but the vote was vested in the whole. The matter of the size of the voting membership was determined by being bishops on the roll of voting bishops and actually present in the House at the time of the vote.
Since then there have been a number of comments to that posting and some of those provide some helpful insight. Much of what has been offered seems to think I misunderstand the clear warrant of the canons. Actually I believe that I may underrate the exactness of canon phrasing. Requiring that half the potential voters vote for one side or the other of the decision in order to make it stick is essentially requiring a different quorum and a separate declaration that the House is open for business regarding deposition.
There it is. And, as in all things of this sort, I could be wrong.
Fr. Tobias Haller, a notable contributor to the internet world, remarked that the House was only a few votes shy of being able to meet the test of a supermajority. While I don't interpret the canon in the same way he does it did make me wonder just when the House of Bishops might have in the past met the test of having present more than half the full membership list of the HoB present. For a quick reference point I took the meetings of the HoB between GC 2003 and GC2006. The numbers present for business (legislative) sessions were between 122 and 144 and the over all number in the full HoB was between 285-300. Over all the number hovers around the 50% mark of the whole number of bishops on the rolls. Now business was conducted on the basis of a much smaller quorum. No where can I find any call for a second counting of a quorum based on any other accounting.
At General Convention 2006 it was noted that the full house consisted of 285 members. In order to have a quorum based on that number there would have had to be 143 members present. The first day there were 123 bishops present (pg 62 Journal GC 2006). In fact the quorum was based on the 125 total members with jurisdiction, namely 63.
So neither GC 2006 or any of the meetings of the HoB since GC 2003 had sufficient membership to make it possible to have a quorum large enough to meet the test of the a supermajority based on the full count of the House. More importantly it was never raised as an issue.
The need for a supermajority was not raise in the case of the Deposition of The Rt. Rev. Neptali Larrea Moreno, Bishop of Ecuador Central, in the Spring of 2004 (thanks to another comment on the blog for this memory jog.) (see pg 715 Journal GC2006) That business took place under the quorum basis for the meeting as a whole. There were 144 bishops listed as present but no determination as to whether all of these bishops were voting members. Supposing they all were, they would constitute an absolute quorum of a group of 289 bishops. This being the meeting next after the GC 2003 we would have to know the number of bishops part of GC 2003. That number is 288. The number of bishops present in the meeting deposing Bishop Larrea was precisely half the list of the bishops at GC2003, which list may have actually changed by several members since the General Convention. So it just may be that there was a sufficiency for a supermajority. There is no record of any negative votes, but even one would have meant that there was not the required majority.
More importantly no issue was raised as to the quorum or the vote being based on the membership of the whole house.
After all the exploration of numbers I find no reason to suppose that at any time any quorum was called for on the basis of 50%+1 of the whole membership of the HoB roll. Rather the quorum was always based on the standard 50% +1 of all the bishops excluding those resigned. It did not come up in 2003, it did not come up in 2008.
Having said all that, Fr. Haller may be right. I include his remarks on my previous post. They are most instructive.
"The HoB meeting only fell a dozen or so bishops short of the necessary number. It is not all that difficult to get a majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote at a meeting -- even including retirees, who are still among the eligible.
That being said, it is more of a problem nowadays with the number of retired bishops, than it was in the days these canons were conceived, when most bishops served until mandatory retirement age, which happened to be close to life expectancy!
In addition to the high standard due to deposition without trial, the reason the language must entail a supermajority lies in the fact that it makes no sense otherwise to mention the "whole number of bishops entitled to vote" -- if it meant voting members present at the meeting. Obviously if that was what it means there'd be no reason to say anything, since that's just a normal quorum. The history of the canon also shows this was always meant to be more than just those present. Check up White and Dykman. (Also, part of the strangeness of the language lies in the fact that a number of members of the HoB are not entitled to vote: the collegial and honorary members.)
All that being said, there are several ways out of this situation (the immediate one -- the long range solution is to finally adopt the Constitutional Amendment to Article I.2, removing the vote from resigned bishops -- which should have been done long ago). Anyway, here are the options as I see them (there may be others):
* Just accept it as a done deal. This seems to be the way many are heading. Deal with the fallout later.
* Do the above but also revisit JDS's "resignation from the House of Bishops" and interpret it as a renunciation -- since there is no such thing as "resignation from the House of Bishops" it is within the power of the House to accept it as a renunciation. He clearly wants to have nothing more to do with the Episcopal Church, and since all Episcopal Bishops are ex officio members of the HoB, his resignation from the House must mean he is no longer an Episcopal Bishop. This is the course I am coming around to commending, as it accepts the ball he pitched from his own court but doesn't bat it back. He is no longer the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.
* Do a mail ballot of the absent eligible bishops -- this is in fact what was done with Bishop Cumming in the 1870s. (Remember only a dozen or so additional votes are needed to put the lock on this beyond question.)
Anyway, it's Holy Week, and I had an epiphany in the course of the liturgy this morning that there are more important things in life than the fate of Bishop Schofield. Duh."
I find several attractive suggestions in Fr. Haller's comments.
I think it is a done deal, and one done not out of malice but in line with past actions in which the test of the presence of a super majority was not brought forward and on the basis that once the HoB is in session to do business the matter of who votes is about who is in the room. If the questions persist it might not do us great harm to redo the ballot in one way or another, but I consider the practical outcome mostly a "done deal." He has left the building, we have acknowledged it, it is official.
We really need to find some other way to clean up messes then to talk about deposition. At the same time we do need to make it legally and canonically clear that the bishop in question is no longer authorized to function in the Episcopal Church as a bishop. Deposition is what we have. Bishop Schofield could have renounced his orders IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH and still claimed that he is a bishop in the Church of God. That would be for God, him and the church in which he exercised his ministry to work out. But he didn't do that either. He claimed to resign, not renounce. I don't see any reason to reinterpret his intention. Still I am attracted to some way to use a different language for what is being done. Deposition has an odd edge to it.
The mail ballot idea, like the mail ballot idea in a Florida redo primary, is a very mixed bag. Still it has the attraction of settling the matter once and for all. Like the redo of the South Carolina election of bishop a redo of the vote would "settle things," or would it? There is the problem that it is extra canonical. I am sure there are ways around this.
I absolutely agree that it is Holy Week and there are better things to do at the moment. Maybe later it makes sense to think again on these things. Maybe not.