Friday, August 22, 2008

Closing the Barn Door…

... after the horses have long since escaped.

The fun thing about the Anglicanland soap opera is that it's an action-packed adventure, not a tightly-drawn drama that could play on public television. There is a certain rhythm to the plot development, but just when you think things are quieting down in one place, the action picks up someplace else.

My former diocese of San Joaquin is gearing up for another turn on center stage. Word from the California Supreme Court is that oral arguments will be heard some six weeks from now in the cases of the parishes that left the dioceses of Los Angeles and San Diego two or three years ago. San Joaquin is not a party to this litigation, but the outcome will certainly influence the lawsuits that have been lodged against Bishop Schofield and, through him, the "Anglican" Diocese of San Joaquin. At the 2006 diocesan convention, when the first vote was taken on the constitutional amendment that, a year later, effectively separated the diocese from the Episcopal Church, clergy and lay leaders from these parishes were on the sidelines, making clear their desire to come under Bishop Schofield's oversight in a sort of "greater" Diocese of San Joaquin. Whether they still have that desire I don't know. But there are certainly close links between San Joaquin and the defendants in the cases that will be heard by the California Supreme Court in October.

Meanwhile, Bishop Jerry Lamb, the appointed ordinary of the 815 puppet "Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin," the plaintiff in the legal case against Bishop Schofield, has stated just today his latest plans for those clergy who failed to respond to his early July "choose this day whom ye will serve" missive (which includes "most" of those who received it, by his own reckoning). He's giving them one more chance, and extending the deadline to September 5, two weeks from now. What then? "We will immediately begin canonical actions on September 6, 2008 charging Abandonment of the Communion and Failure to Follow a Pastoral Direction of the bishop for those who do not respond. When the September 5 deadline passes, inhibitions will be imposed." This is a change in tune from a recent interview the bishop gave with Steve Waring of The Living Church, in which he adopted a more tentative tone.

But why now? And is Bishop Lamb possibly hoisting himself on his own petard here? Word has it that he is planning a "diocesan convention," to be held in Hanford in October—conveniently the same weekend that the Southern Conites are planning theirs in Fresno (45 miles away). We're back to the "you can't have it both ways" situation that I outlined here. If Bishop Lamb wants to maintain the fiction that his "diocese" is indeed the rightful manifestation of the entity that existed as the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin prior to December 8 of last year, then every member of the clergy whom he does not depose is presently "in good standing," and entitled to seat, voice, and vote at any convention of the diocese. The total of those so eligible is in the neighborhood of 110. According to the constitution of the diocese (as it read prior to December 8), a quorum of clergy for the transaction of business would be 37, give or take. He doesn't have that many, but he could be within striking distance if he can cull the total in order to reduce the number needed for a quorum. So there's some incentive to "downsize."

Of course, there is also a quorum requirement in the lay order. In San Joaquin, this requires the registered presence of at least one elected delegate from one-third of the congregations that are in union with the diocese. Since the story that they're sticking to is that dioceses can't leave TEC, and therefore ADSJ hasn't, then that means none of the parishes have either. (See the cyber-version of the Episcopal Church Annual—aka the Red Book. The page for the Diocese of San Joaquin lists nearly all the congregations that were part of the pre-12/8/07 entity, including a direct link to the website of my former parish, which, when one clicks on it, reveals a congregation that is very much gone from the Episcopal Church! The irony is mind-boggling.) So there would need to be at least one delegate from some 15 congregations in order to have a valid convention. This is a harder nut to crack, since a bishop cannot just "depose" a congregation. It takes an act of convention. But if there's no quorum, there's no convention. To top it all off, there is some question whether all the congregations Bishop Lamb claims are part of his diocese have even been informed officially of the upcoming convention, such notice being required by diocesan canons. And this is to say nothing of the congregations (four, as I count them) that were "planted" by the EDSJ after the split; this only raises the threshold for a canonical quorum. Want some Dramamine?

There is an alternative, of course. They could shrug and say, "OK, they're gone. What we have left is what we have left" (speaking of both clergy and congregations). Let's forget the past and move on and make something new for TEC in the Central Valley. That appears to be what they did at the purported special diocesan convention last March, where there was clearly no quorum in either order, yet they proceeded to elect an interim bishop, ignore the duly-elected Standing Committee, one of whose members was present (a priest who never resigned his elected office and who had signaled two months earlier his intention not to follow Bishop Schofield to Argentina), elect a new Diocesan Council and new General Convention Deputies, all at the behest of a Presiding Bishop who was acting in violation of canon law by even calling the convention.

But having made that bed (and having enjoyed the perks of doing so), they now eschew lying in it. Could the reason be any more obvious? Just follow the lawsuits. It is vital to Bishop Lamb's case against Bishop Schofield that the fiction be maintained that he and the entity he leads are the legitimate successors and rightful owners of the physical and financial assets of the Diocese of San Joaquin and the congregations associated with it. This is what they hope to win in court. If they acknowledge the "facts on the ground" as they are, they have no hope of winning their case. But trying to prop up the chimera is costly as well, because they have to somehow account for the human and material assets they claim are theirs as they transact the ordinary business of being a diocese, such ordinary business including the satisfaction of requirements for quorums.

Bishop Lamb, Mr Rock is holding on line one and Mr Hard Place is in your waiting room.

4 comments:

The young fogey said...

I've taken to calling the soap opera the Punch-and-Judy show, also a comment on its relevance to the world:

Conservative African bishop says something partly true and partly outrageous/hurtful/lost in translation.

Liberal American does the upper-middle-class thing of showing off one's righteousness by loudly being very, very offended, again partly true having to do with rights.

Take that!

Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.


Anyway I didn't know Dr Schori claimed universal jurisdiction. Arguably an innovation but not personally offensive to me as long as the person claiming it is Catholic.

Anonymous said...

This almost makes me wish I had remained a resident of California, and that I had gone to law school and been admitted to the bar. If I had done both of those things, I would, quite literally, be delighted to take part in the case, pro bono, on behalf of the existing Standing Committee (Fr. Rob Eaton, et al) and/or the SCDSJ. The canonically illicit actions of TEC and Bishop Lamb in this case are too tempting for a poor sinner such as myself to resist.

I learned long ago that I am not a gambler. I don't believe in betting on contests of skill. It is a simple extension of the old adage against mixing business with pleasure, and I am not particularly competitive by nature, in spite of the fact that everyone who knows me personally will gladly affirm otherwise, especially if under oath.

Blessings and regards,
Keith Töpfer

The Underground Pewster said...

Don't even try to predict the next song and dance routine of the California Supremes.

Fred Schwartz said...

Wishing you (and KT)were here with us.