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
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
But it gets more interesting. The
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
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
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
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
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
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.