Monday, January 14, 2008

San Joaquin Annotated

When does a crisis simply become normal? The crisis in the Episcopal Church and in the worldwide Anglican Communion has been described recently as a “slow-motion train wreck.” That strikes me as very apt. We all (Anglicans and those who watch us in our misery) long for resolution, for a return to something resembling homeostasis. Maybe there was once such a thing, but it hasn’t been during the last 35 years—roughly the length of my experience with "this Church." It’s been a continuous soap opera. Many may have been blind to it prior to the summer of 2003, but what happened then was nothing new; it was only the next installment.

Late last week, yet another chapter opened. The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, formally inhibited the Bishop of San Joaquin, John-David Schofield, from the exercise of the liturgical, sacramental, and pastoral aspects of his ministry as a bishop; he is allowed to perform only administrative tasks as regards the “temporal affairs” of the diocese. This action is being pursued under the “abandonment of communion” canon. (Title III, Section 9) It represents the third step in a four-step process that will, one can predict with a fair measure of safety, result in Bishop Schofield being “deposed” from the ordained ministry—in popular parlance, “defrocked.”

The first of the four steps was a finding by the Title IV Review Committee (a standing committee including bishops, priests, and lay persons, and chaired by the Bishop of Upper South Carolina, Dorsey Henderson) that Bishop Schofield has “abandoned the communion of this church” by engaging in one or more of the following: 1) and open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, 2) formal admission into any religious body not in communion with TEC, or 3) performing ministry as a bishop in or for a church that is not in communion with TEC.

In Bishop Schofield’s case, it was the first of the criteria—“open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship…”—that the Review Committee cites as the smoking gun. The word “or” in that phrase invites the question, “Which one (or ones) was it, then?” We don’t know the answer to that, because the original request (from the Presiding Bishop via her chancellor, David Booth Beers, we now know) that the Review Committee investigate the matter has not been made public to my knowledge. One would think that it is “discipline,” however, since the 1979 Book of Common Prayer continues to be the liturgical and theological norm of the diocese in its Southern Cone incarnation, hence eliminating "doctrine" and "worship." But I am still curious as to what specific act on the part of the Bishop is considered to breach the discipline of the Episcopal Church.

In any case, the Review Committee’s finding was forwarded to the three most senior bishops with jurisdiction for their concurrence; all three must concur. Apparently, all three have. For the record, they are Peter of Lee of Virginia, Leo Frade of Southeast Florida, and Don Wimberly of Texas. The canon is very specific here: The Presiding Bishop has no discretion in the matter. If steps one and two are fulfilled, the words “shall inhibit” come into play, and there is no ambiguity. I have little doubt that Bishop Jefferts Schori personally believes it to be meet and right so to do, but it isn’t like she had a choice.

The date of the inhibition (last Friday at 5:00 PM) starts a two month clock ticking. During that time, Bishop Schofield has the opportunity to either offer a refutation of the facts on which the abandonment finding is based (“I didn’t really do what they say I did”), or to recant that evidence (“I did it, but now I’m sorry, and I don’t mean it anymore”), or to voluntarily renounce the office and ministry of the episcopate (“You can’t fire me; I quit”). Then the ball is in the court of the House of Bishops. Conveniently, they are scheduled to be in session at their regular March meeting—you guessed it—two months from now. If two-thirds of them agree, Bishop Schofield will be formally deposed from the ordained ministry, and he’ll be getting a “Dear Mr Schofield” letter. [Note on 1/15: I was mistaken--it's a simple majority that is required for deposition, not tw0-thirds.]

Of course, these facts are all the truth (as near as I can tell), and they are nothing but the truth. They are not, by any stretch, however, the whole truth.

Let’s start with the obvious, and then, perhaps, move on to the subtle. The canonical process that has been put into play amounts to closing the barn door after the horses have escaped. A little more than a month ago, the Diocese of San Joaquin took an action which a rather decisive majority of the clergy and laity assembled in convention believe relieves them, and their Bishop, of any accountability to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. I am as certain as one could be without being an eyewitness that Bishop Schofield has, with some degree of glee, flouted the sentence of inhibition, and that he appeared yesterday morning to preach the Word and preside at the Eucharist at one of the congregations of the diocese according to a schedule that was published several months ago. [Note on 1/15: I have since learned that he amicably agreed not to visit an "in discernment" parish that was on his rota, and instead made hospital calls--still probably in violation of the inhibition.]

For few hours last week, there were mixed messages coming out of Fresno. The first press release seemed to take a “dual citizenship” position, claiming that Bishop Schofield is a member of both TEC’s House of Bishops and also that of the Province of the Southern Cone. This is roughly that same position that was implied by His Grace in an interview some weeks ago, which one observer characterized (not inaccurately, in my opinion) as saying “If you want to say I’m still an Episcopalian, then I’m not; if you want to say I’m not an Episcopalian, then I am.” However, there was soon a clarifying missive from the Canon to the Ordinary: “Hasta la vista, Baby!” (I paraphrase.) No ambiguity. Both “J-DS” and “D-SJ” (funny how that works!) are under the umbrella of Bishop Venables and the Province of the Southern Cone. They see the Presiding Bishop’s action as having no force or effect because she has no authority to discipline the Bishop of a diocese in a Province not her own. It is like the Primate of Australia presuming to depose a bishop in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican province in Japan).

But it gets more interesting. The San Joaquin situation does not exist in isolation, but is only one battle front among several that Katharine and her consiglieri must keep on their screens. Fort Worth and Pittsburgh appear poised to make the same leap that San Joaquin has made. Quincy may not be far behind. Whatever strategic moves 815 makes against San Joaquin will provide valuable intel to these other dioceses, so the Establishment needs to weigh everything it says and does very carefully. Then there’s the already in-process litigation against the Anglican District of Virginia—a consortium of eleven former Episcopal congregations that have, under the leadership of Bishop Martyn Minns, formerly the Rector of one of those parishes, affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), which is an arm of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). That case has already been argued, and there will likely be an initial decision before the San Joaquin drama fully plays out. Yet, it will doubtless end up in a Court of Appeals, and there seems a possibility that TEC’s strategy on one front might undercut its position in the other—more on that downstream.

Then there’s the reality that any action against Bishop Schofield is only an initial volley. If 815’s goal is to re-establish an Episcopal Church presence in the central third of California, and try to recover part or all of the material fabric of what was the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, much more needs to be done. For instance, once the Bishop of San Joaquin is, from the perspective of TEC, removed from office, what we’re left with is a diocese without a bishop. According to the canons, the Standing Committee, as a unit, becomes the Ecclesiastical Authority of the diocese. Now, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin has an elected Standing Committee consisting of four lay persons and four clergy. All eight of them were elected and assumed office prior to the vote of the December 8 convention to remove references to TEC from its constitution and to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone.

So far, to my knowledge, the Standing Committee has kept quiet, both collectively and as individual members. Do they consider themselves the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church Diocese of San Joaquin? The Southern Cone Diocese of San Joaquin? Are the members divided on the question? There is no record of how any of them voted at the convention, save for any video images that may be recovered indicating which line they went through during the vote. (I saw one lay member clearly in the Aye line; beyond that I have no certain knowledge.) The ENS article on the inhibition, and the efforts to minister to “remaining Episcopalians” in the diocese’s geographical area, mentions replacing the Standing Committee, but qualified by the words “if necessary.”

Yet, there is no obvious canonical mechanism for determining the necessity of such an action. Nor is there any obvious canonical mechanism for actually taking such an action should it be deemed necessary. I say “obvious” just to cover myself, and because I am not a canon lawyer. But I do know how to read and I do have a copy of the Constitution and Canons in front of me, and I cannot find any provision that applies to the situation at hand. Who has the authority to make such a determination? Who has the authority to take such an action? How would such a process be executed? This gets especially tricky with respect to the lay members of the Standing Committee, as lay persons are subject to much looser discipline under the canons than are clergy. They have made no vows of fealty to “this Church” the breach of which might be an actionable offense. Anyone may proffer ostensibly plausible answers to those questions, but unless I’m just really missing something as I read the canons, “plausible” is about the best we’re going to do. “Definitive” is beyond anyone’s reach. There is simply no template for due process; it would have to be improvised, and any time due process is improvised, any acts performed thereunder are automatically subject to suspicion.

Things are never as simple as they seem, nor as we might like them to be. There are certainly clergy in San Joaquin who would relish the chance to share the canonical fate of their Bishop, and congregations that would relish their clergy sharing that fate. There are certainly clergy who have made clear an intention to perdure in their adherence to the Episcopal Church, and congregations the vestries of which have voiced a similar intention. But it would be a mistake to assume that those categories account for the whole of what lately was the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. There is no small amount of ambivalence among Anglicans (I use that term to be inclusive of everyone involved) in the area. The situation is still fluid, both for individual clergy and laity, and for congregations.

Here I am speaking of people who tend to share the prevailing “reasserter” views on the questions of sexual morality that are the catalyst for this latest (post-2003) round in the Anglican crisis, who are intuitively and materially distrustful the “national church,” who have held Bishop Schofield in a high degree of esteem and affection, and who may, because of that esteem and affection, even have abstained or voted with the majority last month, but yet are not fully persuaded of the necessity or advisability of either leaving TEC or affiliating with the Southern Cone. They are exercising the opportunity for “discernment” that Bishop Schofield has promised. The powers-that-be on Second Avenue seem intent on perceiving the landscape in San Joaquin in binary terms. If I were to advise them, I would encourage them to think outside such rigid categories—at least if they are interested in retaining people as well as property. The more they demonize Bishop Schofield and prop up Remain Episcopal as their puppet regime, they will only drive these “undecideds” into the welcoming arms of Bishop Venables.

One might ask, “How is inhibiting and deposing a Bishop who, by his own admission, has left the Episcopal Church, ‘demonizing’ him?” The answer is, “Perception is reality.” And the perception is that +John-David is being persecuted (a perception he has, to be sure, encouraged), a perception that will reach its angry zenith when the “Dear Mr Schofield” letter comes out. Why go through the patent charade of laicizing a bishop who has merely accepted a position in another Anglican province, one which “this Church” considers itself in full communion with (leaving aside the matter of whether that consideration is reciprocated). It isn’t the first time such a thing has been done, and presbyters do it all the time. In fact, as I understand it, the former Bishop of Alaska, Mark McDonald, now serves as a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, and also as Bishop of TEC’s Navajoland area. If they were truly wise, and truly mindful of their own best interests (let alone Christian charity), Bishop Jefferts Schori and her advisors would simply acknowledge that the Right Reverend John-David Schofield now serves in the Province of the Southern Cone and wish him godspeed.

Now, what about the clergy of the diocese, i.e. those who, like their Bishop, now consider themselves accountable to the Constitution and Canons of the Province of the Southern Cone? Just as there is an “abandonment canon” for bishops, so is there one for priests and deacons. For the same reasons I have already articulated with respect to the imprudence of invoking that canon against Bishop Schofield, I believe it would be unwise to proceed in that manner against the clergy who are loyal to him. Some years ago, I considered putting my name in for a parish in Toronto. If I had been called there, and accepted, I would not have had to renounce my orders in TEC, nor would I have been subject to disposition. There would have been pension consequences, but no disciplinary sanctions. There’s no reason the same cannot apply to the new California Coneheads. Nonetheless, if Chancellor Beers remains true to form, there will be some action attempted. But, once again, there is no clear shot for him to take. Why? Because responsibility for invoking the abandonment canon against priests and deacons lies with the Standing Committee! And we’ve already seen what a can of worms that is.

Even if 815 were to find some semblance of due process under which to act, they might discover that they have painted themselves into a logical corner. Their unrelenting mantra has been, “Individuals can leave TEC, but dioceses and parishes cannot.” Their position is that dioceses are “creatures of General Convention” and that parishes hold their property in trust for TEC (the “Denis Canon”). Yet, in order to proceed canonically against the leaders duly elected under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, they would need to accord some degree of validity to the December vote. In other words, they would be in the position of saying out of one side of their collective mouth, “It is impossible for you to do X” and out of the other side, “Because you have done X, we are going to do Y.” Either the diocese can leave TEC or it cannot. If it can not, then is has not, and if it has not, then there’s nothing to charge anybody with. And if 815 in any way—tacitly or even by mere implication—acknowledges that San Joaquin has in fact left the Episcopal Church, that could undercut its position in the Virginia litigation, where the unitary and hierarchical character of TEC is a key element in its argument.

One last piece of the puzzle: Not only is the Presiding Bishop in an awkward situation, so is Bishop Schofield, and so, most of all, is Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Schofield already has his invitation to next summer’s Lambeth Conference in hand, and he has indicated that he’s ready to roll. Now, Dr Williams is quoted as calling the San Joaquin-Southern Cone plan a “sensible way forward.” He has not confirmed that pronouncement, but neither has he denied it (despite a rather pathetic attempt to do so by the Anglican Communion Office). So, if he were to withdraw Bishop Schofield’s invitation on the grounds that it was originally predicated on his being the bishop of a diocese in the Episcopal Church, especially if he does not also withdraw invitations to TEC bishops who participated in the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, that would effectively doom any chances he might have, which are already looking fairly slim, of persuading a critical mass of Global South Bishops to show up for the event, and thus provide it with some credibility as a voice for the mind of the Communion. Plus, he would be contradicting his own “sensible way forward” remark. On the other hand, if he does not withdraw Bishop Schofield’s invitation, he will have a lot of splainin’ to do to the currently uninvited CANA and AMiA bishops, and, most of all, to one Robinson Cavalcanti, sometime Bishop of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil’s Diocese of Recife. When Bishop Cavalcanti, an outspoken “reasserter” in that largely liberal province, was deposed by his Primate, he, along with a large majority of his clergy and congregations, migrated to—you guessed it—the Province of the Southern Cone. But Bishop Cavalcanti has expressly not been invited to Lambeth. So Dr Williams is very much between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It would take an extraordinary batch of “Anglican fudge” to lubricate the friction between those two opposing forces.

Finally, let me go on record as sitting loosely to all of my observations and predictions. My experience is that, whenever I think the outcome is going to be either A or B, it turns out to be Q.

10 comments:

Fr. Tony Clavier said...

I wrote this today to another list, which may have something or other to do with points you have made in your good analysis:

"The report of the review committee, at least without seeing supporting documentation seems rather vague as to which count or counts are invoked to support the allegation. Normally of course clergy of this church are free to exercise their ministry in other Anglican Provinces with the consent of their Ordinary, but that presumes that they reside in the territory embraced by that Province. While the Instruments of Unity do not authorize the limits and extents of geographical boundaries, one could well say that the recognition given to a Province by the whole Communion includes, at least externally, a territorial limit recognized by all. Internal reorganization is another matter. Ergo, if the Diocese of Sydney claimed jurisdiction over Southern Africa (Archbishops of Sydney have consecrated bishops for the rival not Anglican Communion “Church of England in South Africa” in the past, sometimes over the protest of Capetown and sometimes with tacit approval) its claim might not be recognized by the Australian Church as a whole or the Communion in general through its Instruments.

Therein lies the problem for the Communion, for the Southern Cone and for TEC. However temporary the measure, the Province of the Southern Cone (sounds like ice cream!) now seems to claim jurisdiction in North America. Such a claim is unilateral and is not recognized by the wider church. Similarly although perhaps less immediately the Provinces of Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya seem to make a similar territorial and jurisdictional claim, however justified and however temporary. Such measures are rarely temporary and even more rarely justified. They fly in the face of the Windsor Report’s recommendations and the wishes of the Primates of the Communion and seem to be acts of impatience and panic. They are also ecclesiologically suspect.

There may not be “moral equivalence” whatever that term means, between the actions of TEC in 2003 and onwards and the actions of these Provinces -depends how importance one views the Doctrine of the Church - but the prevalence of unilateralism among conservatives must surely be a cause for worry and needs a far more convincing justification, however much one cares for those in this country who suffer for orthodoxy, than so far has emerged.

Meanwhile Bishop Schofield and his followers are placing themselves under a jurisdiction which may have no jurisdiction in “this land of the USA”. In the long run they may find themselves just as isolated as they have been in TEC. This is all tragic.
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William said...

The more...[815] prop[s] up Remain Episcopal as their puppet regime...

I happen to know a number of Remain Episcopal members -- as I suspect you do. To insinuate that they are mere shills for 815 is not only wrongheaded, but insulting in the extreme. In fact, the Remain Episcopal members could make a strong case that they've been left "in the wilderness" for years when it comes to tangible support for their desire to remain in TEC.

Whether they have made a fitting choice or not can be debated, but at least give these people credit for standing for their convictions on their own.

Anonymous said...

Two points: 1) it is a majority vote in the HOB for abandonment..not a 2/3 vote. [IV.9.2] 2) +JDS did not attend services at the scheduled congregation nor any other congregation yesterday, he made hospital calls.

OK another point; the Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin is alive, well, functioning and constitutionally elected.

JamesW. said...

Dan: Excellent summary and analysis. I think that when all is said and done, TEC's strategy here will be seen as a tremedous blunder - they are backing themselves and Rowan Williams into a corner, with long-term results that will seriously undercut TEC.

But the main point of my post was to distinguish Schofield from Cavalcanti and the AMIA/CANA/etc. bishops. Rowan has made the point that the bishops he has not invited to Lambeth (Robinson and the AMIA/CANA/etc. group) were not invited because they were consecrated against the mind of the Communion. So that clearly distinguishes them from Cavalcanti and Schofield.

Then Cavalcanti was deposed BEFORE he was taken in by the Province of the Southern Cone. Rowan can therefore argue that - whether one agrees with the Brazilian Province's actions or not - it did depose Cavalcanti when he was still part of the Brazilian church. As such, when Venables took Cavalcanti in, he - in a sense - "reconsecrated" him.

None of the above situations apply to Schofield. His diocese departed TEC when he was a bishop in good standing. Now, arguably, TEC has no canonical authority over him.

And that is the question which Rowan's Lambeth invitation will address. If Rowan maintains Schofield's Lambeth invitation, then Tony is wrong when he says that the Southern Cones claim to the Diocese of San Joaquin "is unilateral and is not recognized by the wider church" because Rowan Williams will be recognizing it.

And since I think it is usually safe to assume that Rowan Williams will take the path of non-decision, I think it most likely that Schofield will be keeping his Lambeth invitation.

Dan Martins said...

To JamesW:
Good point about Cavalcanti being extended Argentinian hospitality after his deposition. In actual terms, it's probably a distinction without a difference, but it may be just enough of a crack to give Rowan the cover he needs for the apparent inconsistency.

Marshall said...

Esteemed Brother, your comparison of Bishop Schofield's relationship with Southern Cone and either Bishop MacDonald or your own consideration of a parish in Toronto is not apt. For you to transfer to Toronto would have required some formal and constitutional action at both ends. The ecclesiastical authorities of both the diocese you left and the diocese you entered would have to consent to the move. So, Bishop MacDonald's unusual joint recognition was approved officially in both provinces. Bishop Schofield did not apply to the ecclesiastical authority. Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church states regarding a bishop elected for another jurisdiction, "Before acceptance of such election a resignation of jurisdiction in the in the Diocese in which the Bishop is then serving, conditioned on the required consents of the BIshops and Standing Committees of the CHurch to such election, shall be submitted to the House of Bishops.... Such resignation... shall require the consent of the House of Bishops." Regardless of other issues involved in this, Bishop Schofield did not seek consent of the ecclesiastical authority, the House of Bishops, for transfer to the Southern Cone; and so the process isn't complete.

I don't think the Episcopal Church has near as much trouble as you suggest with the issue of whether there is or is not a Diocese of San Joaquin in the Episcopal Church. I think it is clearer to say that there is one; and that Bishop Schofield and those who support him have violated fiduciary responsibility by the pretense of asserting a false identity between the continuing Episcopal Diocese and some newly forming Diocese of San Joaquin of the Province of the Southern Cone. Both may exist (setting aside for the moment the tradition of the geographical contiguity and integrity of provinces), but they are not identical; nor even if more people have left the continuing diocese to form the new one. There is a community that remains to the continuing diocese (and perhaps even to reconstitute a Standing Committee), and so certainly it has not ceased to exist. That doesn't somehow establish the actions taken in the last diocesan convention.

Beryl Simkins said...

I am a mere lay person who has been a faithful member of the Episcopal Church for more than 40 years in the Diocese of San Joaquin. I love our Episcopal Church, and I have watched and endured while Bishop Schofield has derided the Episcopal Church and Episcopal Church leadership for almost 20 years. Do you not see that his actions and words have created an atmosphere of conflict and distrust? Parishioners, the mere laity, in these circumstances become divided one against the other because lines are drawn and sides must be chosen. And what is the result? Conflicts do not draw people in; they drive people out. So, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, you know full well that missions and parishes have closed as people were driven out and numbers dwindled.
I was a member of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Turlock, and we were a divided parish in regard to the bishop's choices. When our priest left a year ago, the conflicts became more intense. Then Bishop Schofield placed a deposed priest in there as supply, and a number of the parishioners chose to call this deposed priest to serve as interim. In good faith, there were a number of us who could not remain if this man was allowed to serve there. There were five of us on the Vestry who resigned over this issue. A number of us could no longer attend that church while that man was serving there. We were faithful Episcopalians who were simply disregarded by the bishop.
So you make denigrating statements about Remain Episcopal, as though it is a "puppet group" to be propped up by the national church. Does it occur to you that they might be loyal and faithful Episcopalians, Christians, who love their church and who pray for an opportunity to begin anew without having to be embattled with the bishop over his controversies? So how does it make you feel that some of us who gave love, support, talent, and time for more than 40 years to our church, and now we have to begin again with no church, no altar, no altar supplies, no prayer books except our own, no hymnals, no music, no Sunday School building, no church grounds, and so on? If we want to attend a church, we have to drive 50 miles up the road. Is it possible for you for one minute to quit worrying about being right and look at what has happened to the laity??? This has not been a noble battle.

leslie, st. francis in exile said...

Well said Beryl! You always hit the nail on the head! Fr. Martins... What is your problem with RE? We are good and faithful Episcopalians. We love the church and were quite willing to come to the Lord's table together with our conservative friends until ex-Bishop Schofield forced us to divide.
Peace to you...

bls said...

Beryl and Leslie, there are many of us in TEC who are thinking of you guys in San Joaquin, and who know you are people and not puppets.

Take heart, and don't let them get you down.

Martial Artist said...

Dear Fr. Martins,

First, allow me to express my thanks for what seems a quite thorough and balanced discussion of many of the specific issues (particularly the indeterminate ones) surrounding the "departure" of the Diocese of San Joaquin.

I do have one observation to make concerning the statement that you made in your post that

"Dr. Williams is very much between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It would take an extraordinary batch of “Anglican fudge” to lubricate the friction between those two opposing forces."

It would seem to me that Dr. Williams has, by his deliberate choices (actions or lack of same) navigated directly into that situation, an observation which you did not register.

From your silence on this latter point, what ought we to infer about your opinion as to why +Rowan finds himself in extremis, particularly whether anyone should be surprised at that result? I ask neither to be snide nor critical, but rather to determine whether you would agree with that assessment.

Blessings and regards,