Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Keeping On Keeping On

Apropos of my post from yesterday, Mark Harris, who is one of the more literary and irenic--though no less partisan for being so--of the "progressive" bloggers--paid me the compliment of being one of the big voices keeping the racket going over the canonical deficiency in recent acts of the Presiding Bishop with respect to the deposition of Bishops Cox and Schofield, and the reorganization of the Diocese of San Joaquin. If indeed so, the honor is all mine, and may my tribe increase. And may it increase especially among those who put on purple shirts when they go to work and wear funny pointed hats to church on Sundays.

Now let's do some close critical exegesis--sort of like the Jesus Seminar approaching one of the gospels--of Father Harris' analysis. He writes:

"Now it turns out that Bishops Lawrence, Howe and Duncan (or at least his Lawyer) have all objected to the voting at the last House of Bishops meeting. Bishop Duncan was absent. I don't know about Bishops Howe and Lawrence."

I can state with confidence that the right reverend gentlemen from Central Florida and South Carolina were indeed there.

Did either of them object at the time?

To my knowledge, not to the procedure. Unlike some other conservatives, who can't resist smelling a conspiracy here, I'll opt for the simplest explanation and chalk it up to plenary incompetence in the HOB--and I don't say that with any self-righteousness because I've been guilty of the same sort of thing on many occasions. However, it is attested by multiple sources that Bishop Lawrence raised the issue of the illegitimacy of the March 29 San Joaquin convention, now a fait accomplait. I hereby rise up and call him blessed.

"
For most [Episcopalians] this business in San Joaquin is no big deal."

And we should all be grateful for that. I know I am. But yet ... it is a big deal. Its bigness is not determined by plebiscite.

"...I am not convinced that a Standing Committee elected in the same Convention that voted to withdraw from the Episcopal Church and align itself with another Province can be said to be neutral on the matter."

And I'm not convinced that a player who has a vested interest in a particular interpretation of rules and canons "can be said to be neutral on the matter" either--and yet that person is in the position (ostensibly) of ruling definitively on disputed matters of interpretation! Besides, only two of the eight members of the Standing Committee were elected at the 2007 convention.

"The Canons are tools for us to use in our common life in the Episcopal Church, tools that both form and are formed by the community. While they are always in need of further work (of perfecting) they still constitute a body of discipline that we consider of such importance that obedience to them signals a basis for being considered included in or abandoning the communion of this Church."

To this I can only add my Amen. Mark goes on to suggest that the canons need to be revised in the direction of greater clarity. My own mind is not made up on this. From what I've seen of the proposed Title IV revisions, I'm skeptical that they would represent an improvement. But I do not see that the present canons are particularly ambiguous. We all know the difference between "shall" and "may." We know what "next" means. We know that the canons are quite capable of omitting "retired Bishops not present" from required majorities for taking particular actions, but that no such omission is specified for calculating the "whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" in the deposition of one of their colleagues. We know that there is no such canon investing the Presiding Bishop with the authority to nullify an election that takes place in a duly-convened diocesan convention.

But granting Fr Harris' premise for the sake of discussion, I would invite him to follow his own logic. If the canons are murky enough to cause concern about how they may be applied in the future (he raises the spectre of heresy hunts), are they not then equally murky as they apply to the past? Given that they are the very form and substance of the communal life of our church, the medium of our ability to trust one another, is not even the appearance of murkiness sufficient cause to go back and get it right?

"I believe Dan to be wrong in his assessment of what has happened in San Joaquin."

Well, of course! What fun would it be otherwise? But I would dearly love to see a clear, dispassionate analysis of the canons that would explain why I am wrong. I haven't yet.

One thing more: The acrid odor of double standard hangs in the ether like a stale campfire. For us reasserter types, even though all's well that ends well, the process leading up to the consecration of Mark Lawrence was highly traumatic. The first time around, he appeared to have the requisite number of consents at the eleventh hour, but some of them were deemed by the Presiding Bishop to not be in the proper form, and she nullified the election. Fair enough, as long as it's ... well ... fair enough. Every umpire's strike zone has its idiosyncrasies, and both pitchers and hitters are accustomed to making the required adjustments, provided that a pitch that is a strike for the home team is also a strike for the visitors, and vice versa. So, for Bishop Jefferts Schori to apply the letter of canon law with exact precision in the case of the first South Carolina election, and then live by what she apparently considers to be the "spirit" of the law with respect to the deposition of Bishops Cox and Schofield seems egregiously biased. Be strict or be loose, but don't be one way for your favorite team and another way for their opponents.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said Fr. Dan! Well said!
You know it's a bit scary....you've got me coming around to your way of thinking on a few things! I thouhgt it would never happen! :)

One Day Closer

JamesW said...

Keep it up Dan. Your analysis is spot on. I sort of see this whole thing as similar to a politician caught lying or engaged in corruption. Much better to do an upfront "mea culpa" and set things right. If you try to sweep the lie or corruption under the rug and hope nobody notices, it will only come back to hurt you.

And I do wonder if Mark Harris and others realize the incredible harm this will do to TEC's moral credibility, the incredible risk this poses to TEC's secular litigation strategy, and the potential PR fallout if Bishop Cox commences his threatened defamation lawsuit.

My heart grieves at what is going on, but my strategist's brain is thinking "maybe this is the God-given break that we reasserters have been waiting for." It's kind of like watching Napolean march with his whole army to Russia. I think we are watching the beginning of a massive overreach, which could very well lead to a spectacular internal collapse of the Schori/Bruno/Sauls extremist party in the HoB. Dare we hope?

ruidh said...

So, for Bishop Jefferts Schori to apply the letter of canon law with exact precision in the case of the first South Carolina election, and then live by what she apparently considers to be the "spirit" of the law with respect to the deposition of Bishops Cox and Schofield seems egregiously biased. Be strict or be loose, but don't be one way for your favorite team and another way for their opponents.

I disagree profoundly with this. A consent just isn't a consent if it isn't signed. I and any number of technically capable people can forge an email so that it looks like a consent from a standing committee. In fact, the rules were bent in that case to give additional time for SC's to get signed copies into 815. SC dropped the ball here.

A. S. Haley said...

ruidh, you say "A consent just isn't a consent if it's not signed." This says that a consent is not valid if it's not voted on by the required number of voters---since if they don't sign their consent, they have not voted for it. So by your own reasoning, the votes to consent to the depositions of +Cox and +Schofield were invalid, because they didn't receive enough "signatures" (people voting their consent). Isn't logic wonderful?

Anonymous said...

A.S. Haley,
By ruidh's reasoning as you point out those vostes are totally invalid for deposing Bp.'s Cox & Schofield. Not only were they not signed they weren't even written! It was a voice vote! How valid can that be by ruidh's definition?

Funny how they just can't handle the facts on the ground when their deciefulness and wrong doings are brought to light. It hurts! it hurts! Make the light stop, it hurts!


One Day Closer :)

ruidh said...

They were valid votes in the HOB because there wasn't a canonical requirement for signatures as there is for consents.

JamesW. said...

ruidh: Canon IV.9 requires that a deposition is only valid if "a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent." A vote is not necessarily required in the canons - rather a specific number of bishops agreeing to give consent to the deposition is required. The requisite number of bishops did not agree to give the consent to the deposition.

Ruidh is correct that the canons require that consents to an Episcopal election be transmitted in a specific format, and some of Lawrence's consents were not in the correct format. So technically, KJS ruled correctly there.

The problem is that improper consents had long been accepted for previous bishop-consent processes (note how the liberals are very quick to point to precedent to justify what they did to Schofield and Cox, but where was this doctrine of precedent when it came to Lawrence's initial disqualification???).

Dan Martins' point stands because the PB was a stickler for the letter of the canonical law when it came to approving the addition of one of her theological opponents, but she is playing fast and loose (and that is putting it mildly) with the canons when she is getting rid of her opponents or approving the addition of her allies.

There very clearly is "one rule for them and another rule for us."

ruidh said...

Ruidh is correct that the canons require that consents to an Episcopal election be transmitted in a specific format, and some of Lawrence's consents were not in the correct format. So technically, KJS ruled correctly there.

No, that wasn't the canonical problem they were concerned about. That was a separate issue, raised after the fact, in the same kind of manner as the curretn deposition vote is being raised after the fact.

The concern in the first election was whether the consents WERE SIGNED. 815 was receiving unsigned emails. Emails can easily be forged. An unsigned document attests to NOTHING.

Malcolm+ said...

IIRC, one other area where +KJS was not a "stickler" also related to the confirmation of Bishop-elect Lawrence. As I recall from the blogosphere at the time, did she not also extend the deadline by 72 hours for the receipt of consents - and action to Bishop-elect Lawrence's advantage, surely?

JamesW said...

Ruidh: the specific format I was referring to was mailed in signed statements versus emailed assurances.

Now, let us examine things a little more fully:
1) The evidence was that some SC's had emailed consents in the past and had never been told they were not in the correct format.
2) Consents had been accepted in the past in which the SC's were not consenting to the statement to which there were required to by the canons.

In light of the above, if the concern was forged emails, then surely the solution was to contact the SC's who had emailed their consents and inform them that they had so many days to mail in validly signed consent forms.

Malcolm - are you serious? You think that the PB bent over backwards because she gave an extra three days for the consents to come in? As I recall, there was some confusion over the timing and so it could very well have just been a mistake by KJS.

The fact remains that when it came to accepting Lawrence's consents, KJS took a strict approach to the interpretation of the canons, and refused to abide by the spirit of the canons, but insisted on a coldly objective following to the letter.

But when it came to consents for bishops she liked she was willing to bend the canons. And when it came to deposing bishops she really disliked, she was willing to engage in a wholesale abuse of the canonical process to achieve her ends.

ruidh said...

Ruidh: the specific format I was referring to was mailed in signed statements versus emailed assurances.

Signed staements versus nothing.

Now, let us examine things a little more fully:
1) The evidence was that some SC's had emailed consents in the past and had never been told they were not in the correct format.
2) Consents had been accepted in the past in which the SC's were not consenting to the statement to which there were required to by the canons.


How do you know #2? If sufficient signed statements were received without resort to emailed "assurances" the election would still be approved.
In light of the above, if the concern was forged emails, then surely the solution was to contact the SC's who had emailed their consents and inform them that they had so many days to mail in validly signed consent forms.

And that's what happened. Additional time was allowed for SCs to get signed statements in.

J-Tron said...

Not that all of this discussion of canonical minutia isn't fascinating, but what exactly are we hoping to accomplish here? Doesn't this ongoing discussion smack just a bit of an argument for the sake of an argument? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but at the end of the day these two bishops are still by their own admission no longer willing to serve as bishops within TEC. Sooooo... is there any scenario under which they wouldn't have been deposed? If you had every bishop in the country, active or retired, submit a five page statement with a yes or no tag at the end, is there any doubt what the result would be?

Dan Martins said...

J-Tron: One tires of endlessly repeating this, bit it's not *about* the result. Clearly Bishops Schofield and Cox do not wish to be Bishops of and in the Episcopal Church, and--just as clearly--the vast majority of the bishops of TEC support them in that non-desire. But I still contend that this is a stink worth raising because ... well ... it stinks. There are times when process is more important than substance, and this is one of them. Due process begets trust, and trust is what allows us to actually share a common life as a Church. When trust is eroded, we fly apart. It's already happening.

JamesW said...

Ruidh: My point #2 was well publicized last year and acknowledged by the PB. It isn't an issue in controversy.

Ruidh - no, the PB did not give the SC's additional time after a warning. I believe that Dan Martins called for just such a resolution but it was not accepted.

Dan is correct that this is not just about arguing the minutia of the canons. When an organization ceases to follow its own rules on issues this important, and when due process rights are so easily ignored, it is a serious sign of danger.

This time, Dan is right that Cox and Schofield have signalled their desire to leave TEC. But a precedent will have been set. And that precedent is that the due process protections supposedly guaranteed by the canons are no longer guaranteed.

It would be like the police shooting and killing in cold blood an accused murderer. Sure, we might all agree that the guy was a killer and was going to get the death sentence anyway, BUT is that the precedent you want to be setting?

Anonymous said...

RE: "Sooooo... is there any scenario under which they wouldn't have been deposed?"

Well, yeh . . . the current scenario where the depositions did not receive a majority of the bishops with vote.

On another note, of course, there are other bishops who did not receive consents in the "proper form" -- like the newest bishop of Virginia whose consent forms didn't even use the canonically correct wording.

But . . . you know, hey . . . he was a progressive bishop. ; > )

Sarah

Doug said...

There are times when process is more important than substance, and this is one of them. Due process begets trust, and trust is what allows us to actually share a common life as a Church. When trust is eroded, we fly apart. It's already happening.


Dan: I was present at a number of conventions in Frenso where you were the one to move to supress debate while there were still a large number of people who wished to express opinions in opposition to Schofield. You were toadying up to him! How does that build trust? Your actions shut down the opportunity of one of your professed "friends" from speaking. ou broke the trust. The entire thrust of Schofiled was to keep anyone with opposing point of view from expressing them. This continues to this day. Go back and read the responses that were gathered from the letter I sent you as the Dean of the Delta Deanery. The comments of the various people, Seeks and the like, were so arrogant as to defy belief. You said nothing, so much for trust in the Dean of the Deanery. Recall when Schofield was in Stockton for a deanery meeting and a person who asked a simple question about his intent to depart the Episcopal Church was given a 45 minute filibuster and no answer. In response to his comment about how he would have been "grieved" to hear how people might have been marginalized by various parishes I related how recently I had heard a report of a family long associated with the Church in San Joaquin has been so ostracised that they no longer felt welcome and moved to a Luthgeran Church. Schofield's response was to later try to marginalize me by somehow linking the comments of members of my own parish, the comments of people I loved and respected even though we had differences, as somehow those folks were being marginalized. Such was not the case. I agree that trust is necessary, I just don't happen to think that you have done all you could to promote trust and reconcilliation and so are not really in a position to comment on the subject.

Dan Martins said...

Doug, I'm not in a position to argue with your memory, and I've been around long enough to know the veracity of the expression "perception is reality." So I accept your perceptions. They differ from my own, which I'm sure comes as no surprise. I will offer no defense of the Bishop's actions in the last couple of years. My thoughts are well-documented here (i.e. on this blog) and elsewhere. I have been sharply critical of him. I will offer no defense of the way your letter was responded to. I am truly sorry that my efforts proved to be inadequate in your eyes. I did try to act in good faith toward all concerned, as an honest broker. Yes, Fr Seeks can be a little abrasive (and I would say that to his face, so I'm not gossiping). Please don't tar me with the same brush that he gets. As for moving to end debate, I can never recall doing so while there were lines of people at both mikes, and before both sides of a question had been thoroughly aired. In any case, if debate was ended, it's because two-thirds of the house agreed with the motion.