Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Devil in the Details

After my most recent post, I was contacted privately by a priest of my acquaintance. A little over a year ago, he was called to a position as Assistant in a parish of an Episcopal diocese. This past spring, after an extended period of discernment, the parish voted, with the concurrence of the Rector, to abandon its property and re-organize itself under a new name and in a new location under the oversight of an offshore Anglican province—for the same list of reasons that so many others have recently done so. In the weeks leading up to the parish vote, this priest was forthright with his bishop that he intended to remain with the majority of the parish, and that he hoped he would be able to depart with the bishop’s blessing, and receive Letters Dimissory to the new jurisdiction. He was informed that this would not happen, and that he would be inhibited and deposed under the Abandonment Canon. Indeed, he has since been inhibited, and the canonical clock is ticking down to an inevitable deposition. With his permission, I am sharing the letter he recently wrote to the bishop of his (now former) diocese. The details have been redacted, but I believe it is telling for the light it sheds on the extent to which canons are being ignored, bent, and twisted, all for the sake of . . . well, I really can’t figure that one out. It’s no secret that I do not advocate orthodox Episcopalians jumping ship. But I can empathize with those who find it necessary to do so, and it seems we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not trying to navigate these troubled waters with more charity, compassion, and holy ambiguity.

 

Dear Bishop xxxxxxxxx,

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of the packet of documents dated August 21, 2008. Among those documents are a letter from xxxxxx, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of xxxxxxxxx, a letter from you to me, informing me of my inhibition and my rights in this process, and a letter from you to various officials of the Episcopal Diocese of xxxxxxxxxx and The Episcopal Church, informing them of my status.

Although you were careful in your letter to specify the canonical violations under which I am accused, I am confused how this process is applicable to me and my situation and request that a number of fundamental issues be clarified and corrected.

First, although your letter indicates that you are inhibiting me pursuant to Title IV.10.1 for Abandonment of Communion, neither you nor the Standing Committee of the Diocese has indicated any act or statement on which this claim is based.  Your letter does not state that you have made any factual findings regarding any alleged Abandonment.  Rather, as required by the canon, it states that you are “affirming the Standing Committee’s findings that [I] have Abandoned the Communion of this church.”  Also as required by the canon, you have provided me with a copy of the “findings” on which you have based your acceptance, but this document lacks specificity.  Given the severity of a charge of Abandonment of Communion, the canon prudently requires that the Standing Committee provide the bishop “a statement setting out in reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon in making its determination.”  It is this statement which initiates the inhibition process.  Unfortunately, the Standing Committee’s statement does not set out in reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon.  Indeed, it sets forth no acts or declarations at all. 

I request that, at a minimum, I be told what acts or declarations I am being accused of.  I think fundamental fairness requires it.  Further, it appears fairly apparent that the statement provided by the Standing Committee does not meet the standard required by the canon to initiate the inhibition process.  Accordingly, I would request that the Standing Committee follow the requirements of the canon and, if it so finds, issue a statement with the “reasonable detail” of the “acts or declarations relied upon” to make its decision.  Pending such canonical statement, I request that you confirm that your current letter of inhibition to me is retracted, pending your receiving a detailed statement from the Standing Committee that you can accept consistent with canon. 

Also, should someone make a “report” of facts to the Standing Committee that I have in some way abandoned the communion as required by the canon, I would request that the Standing Committee notify me of such allegations, so that I may respond in writing to such allegations prior to the Standing Committee voting on such allegations.  Again, I think fundamental fairness dictates, and I would think that the integrity of the Standing Committee process would require, that the Standing Committee hear both sides of any issue prior to taking such a serious vote.

Second, now that I am aware that someone is making allegations against me, I want to be very clear that I have not in any way Abandoned the Communion of this Church.  I have not renounced the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church.  I have not been formally admitted into any religious body not in communion with this Church, and I have not Abandoned the Communion of this Church in any other way.[1]  Further, to my knowledge, the mere absence of a priest from the diocese is not a disciplinary matter until such absence exceeds two (2) years.  Canon IV.11.3.

As an aside, I would note that since the canon apparently deems formal admission into a religious body NOT in communion with this Church as grounds for discipline, it implicitly accepts (as one would expect) formal admission into religious bodies that ARE in communion with this Church.  I address this matter further below.

Third, in your letter of inhibition, you state that I “have the rights specified in Section 2 of this Canon.”  The crucial right in Section 2 for anyone accused of an inhibitable act or statement is the right to avoid further discipline by issuing a good faith retraction of such act or statement.  As noted above, however, no one has made known to me that act or statement on which my inhibition is based.  Again, I would ask that if I am to be able to retract any possible act or statement, that such act or statement actually be made known to me.

Fourth, your letter states, “[i]f you do not renounce your abandonment and return to the Episcopal Church, it will be my unfortunate responsibility to depose you as provided for in Canon IV.12”  I want to be clear, as noted above, I renounce any claim of my abandonment.  Also, however, I want to address your options in such event.  Although I sincerely hope we never get to such a situation, should I be ever be inhibited for over six (6) months without retraction, you have more than one option.  Under Canon IV.10.2, you have two (2) discretionary options, with deposition being the more severe choice.  If such event ever took place, I would ask that you allow me the “release of obligations” option and not seek the harsher “deposition” penalty, as indicated in your letter.  …, I would ask that you reconsider this matter.

Fifth, I had earlier formally requested that you issue my Letters Dimissory for my missionary work with the Province of xxxxxxxx, but never received a response.  I would again ask that you issue such Letters, so that I may continue my work with your blessing.  Similarly, and as set forth in the canons for priests desiring to officiate in another church in communion with the Episcopal Church, I would request that you issue to me the testimonial described in Canon III.9.6(e), again, so that I may continue with your blessing.

Finally, and no less serious, is the issue of my reputation as a clergyman and Christian.  As noted throughout my letter, I was very disappointed to see allegations with no facts and processes with no valid procedures, all culminating in baseless allegations against me.  What hurt even further is that without discussing this process or allegations with me, you sent your letter with allegations that I abandoned the communion to every bishop in the House of Bishops and every member of the clergy of this diocese.  This has undoubtedly damaged my reputation and standing with my colleagues and potential future superiors in an incalculable amount.  I request that you immediately retract your letter and make sure that all recipients of your letter receive such retraction.  I think fundamental fairness requires that due process be followed and that I not have my reputation damaged and prejudged in this manner.[2]

 

 

Faithfully,

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



[1] As you know, I am associated with xxxxxxxxxxxxx Anglican Church, a missionary entity for the Province of xxxxxxxxxxxx.  As far as I am aware, the Episcopal Church and the Province of xxxxxxxxxxxxxx are still in communion with each other. 

[2] I am aware of no canonical provision that would require such broad notice.  There is a similar provision in Canon III.9.11, but such provision deals with the actual removal of a priest, which has not occurred.

15 comments:

ruidh said...

I just don't get what you think has gone wrong here. Letters dimissory are only appropriate for when someone actually *moves* to another province. They absolutely make no sense if the fellow is going to stay in the same place.

Deposition is appropriate.

plsdeacon said...

ruidh

Then the Episcopal Church is no longer part of the Anglican Communion. If transferring to another Anglican province cause for being deposed for abadoning the communion of this church, then, obviously, this church is not in communion with that church.

When common faith is lost, then unity is lost and the only discipline is power. Bishop X exercises this form of discipline.

ruidh said...

You've correctly identified the problem as one of communion. But you are begging the question when you assert that the foreign province has a legitimate jurisdiction. That, of course, is the real question. If this ministry of the foreign jurisdiction is not recognized as being legitimatee. The Windsor Report condemns it. The Archbishop of Canterbury rejects it. The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate this ministry is within the Communion.

The whole assertion that TEC has left the faith is calumny of the worst sort.

Kevin M said...

A few questions and observations:

1. If a priest physically moves to another part of the world and wishes to serve in that particular Anglican church, then Letters Dimissory would be appropriate. However, the priest in this case is still ministering within the boundaries of his former diocese, something that has not been recognized as appropriate by the Abp. of Canterbury, Lambeth, etc.

2. Being in communion here is a tricky question at the moment. Would it be fair to say that Anglican Church X (ACX for short), which the priest is now part of, considers itself either out of communion or in impaired communion with TEC? Therefore, in this particular priest would no longer consider himself in full communion with TEC. Technically, he has abandoned communion with TEC. However, the problem arises in that TEC still sees itself as being in communion with ACX; so use of this canon would be an implicit agreement that we are indeed not in communion with ACX.

3. Have there been any cases where a priest leaving for "missionary work" within an Episcopal diocese for another Anglican church received Letters Dimissory, and how does this compare, numbers-wise, with other actions taken, such as official deposition? I just wonder if there are different trends between liberal dioceses and more moderate (or even conservative) ones.

4. If an Episcopal priest decides to leave for a church not in communion but on friendly terms with us, e.g. the Presbyterian Church USA, what is the typical procedure for doing so? Letters Dimissory certainly wouldn't be in order, but are there alternatives to formal deposition if the priest informs the bishop that he wishes to leave ministry within TEC and join that other church?

Thanks,
Kevin

Anonymous said...

TEC has abandoned the communion of this church--having departed from the faith once delivered. That has been proven over and over again. It is a simple, undeniable fact. For TEC to pretend that they have any authority over Anglican clerics or dioceses/entities in the Southern Cone or any other Anglican province is absurd. It borders on insane. Children cover their eyes with each other and say, "You're invisible!"--and everyone laughs. TEC covers itgs eyes and says, "You're inhibited!You're deposed!"--but the laugher comes because it's pure nutsiness. He that sitteth in the heavens may laugh as TEC shakes its "mighty" fist and shouts, "Off with their heads!" But He sees the end from the beginning. When Jesus comes, we want to be found standing VERY close to Him--and as far from TEC's revisionist leaders as possible.

ruidh said...

"If an Episcopal priest decides to leave for a church not in communion but on friendly terms with us, e.g. the Presbyterian Church USA, what is the typical procedure for doing so? Letters Dimissory certainly wouldn't be in order, but are there alternatives to formal deposition if the priest informs the bishop that he wishes to leave ministry within TEC and join that other church?"

Well, if the priest wised to do ministry in ELCA, then some arrangement could be made between the TEC bishopa nd the ELCA bishop with the priest wither remaining in TEC and serving in an ELCA cure or the priest trransferring to ELCA. But we have a special relationship with ELCA. With PCUSA, I suspect that the priest would resign from TEC or face deposition because we're not (to my knowledge) in communion with PCUSA.

ruidh said...

"TEC has abandoned the communion of this church--having departed from the faith once delivered. That has been proven over and over again. It is a simple, undeniable fact."

No, actually, it's the big lie. If you tell a big lie often enough, you can get the weak minded to believe it.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral asserts that the historic creeds are *sufficient* statements of faith. There is no fact to demonstrate that TEC has revoked or renounced the creeds. Thus it can not be demonstrated that TEC has left the faith.

Any other suggestion is, frankly, absurd on its face and false witness.

JamesW said...

ruidh: First of all, you have only responded to a small part of this priest's letter.

Second, the canon for abandonment is very clear that the transfer is to a Church "not in communion" with TEC. For TEC to invoke this canon is prima facie evidence that TEC considers itself "out of communion" with the other Anglican Province. If, as you suggest, the issue is the subsequent priestly activity within TEC's "turf", then that should be dealt with in the same way that TEC would deal with (e.g.) a priest from Uganda would be dealt with who moved from Uganda to the U.S. without permission from the local TEC bishop.

In the end, this situaiton demonstrates very clearly the results when TEC forced its vision of *federation* onto the Anglican *Communion*. Like it or not, what we now know as the "Anglican Communion" would be more properly described as the Anglican Federation. Once TEC drove the stake into the heart of mutual accountability (and yes, ruidh, it was TEC which did that), Provinces are no longer "in communion" with each other, depositions in TEC are no longer recognized elsewhere in the Anglican world, etc. Ecclesiastical chaos.

Unfortunately, I don't see any quick fix to this situation. While I am not necessarily a cheerleader for GAFCON, I do believe that the only long term strategy for a future Anglican COMMUNION is to begin to gather once again those Anglican Provinces interested in a COMMUNION, back into a COMMUNION-like relationship with each other and then nourish and grow this group until it draws the rest of the Anglican Communion back into it again. (That's why I think it is critical for GAFCON to remain open to the likes of John Chew, Mouneer Anis, Ephraim Radner, Chris Seitz, Dan Martins, etc., and declines to force through the new North American Province at this time.)

ruidh said...

If an argument depends on a "fact" which is false, one needs only to demonstrate the falsity to demolish the agument.

The priest in question in fact has not left for the Southern Cone. He is not geographically in that province. The Anglican Connunion does not recognize the legitimacy of this mministry -- it is not ministry *within* the Connunion. He may in fact be recognized by Soouthern Cone, but that is not transitive to the rest of the Communnion. That Schoofied was disinvited from Lambeth should clue you in to the correct answer of whether he is still doing ministry in the Communion. He most certainly is not.

That's not to say he isn't doing ministry. Just not ministry within thee Communion.

Anonymous said...

ruidh:

i feel a strong need to correct your last post. Bishop Schofield was not disinvited to Lambeth. Archbishop Gregory Venables of Province of the Southern Cone received a letter from ++Rowan Cantuar stating that JDS was a Bishop in good standing in the Anglican Communion, much as ++Rowan just received Bishop Duncan. Bishop Scofield was not physically up to another long trip, after returning from Jerusalem, and he elected not to attend Lambeth.

For His sake,

Deacon Francie

JamesW said...

ruidh: Your point doesn't hold. Canonical residence doesn't always equal geographical location where the ministry is done. You are conflating two questions. The first is "can an American priest transfer to another jurisdiction?" He most certainly can. The second is, "now that he is under the other jurisdiction, where may he serve?"

Transferring to the Southern Cone is not necessarily about moving oneself geographically, but rather an issue of canonical residence.

Again, what the TEC bishop should have done is transfer the canonical residence, but tell the priest that he is prohibited from acting within the TEC diocese. Then when the priest did so, the TEC bishop can take it up.

ruidh said...

No, again, for perhaps the third time, you're assuming rather than demonstrating that the priest is moving to a jurisdiction in Communion with this church. He Is Not.

He is moving to an illicit ministry of a foreign province.

Deposition for abandonment is appropriate. Unquestionably.

JamesW. said...

ruidh: Once again, you are incorrect. I know of a priest who is canonically resident in an Atlantic state diocese but who has served as priest in another country and in West Coast states. It is absolutely untrue that you have to be geographically resident and serving in the geographical location of your canonical residency in order to be validly canonically resident there. It is simply not true, and even the most basic research would prove that to you.

To be very blunt, ruidh, the current TEC vicar of my TEC parish is NOT canonicaly resident in my TEC diocese, but is canonically resident in another TEC diocese. Our local TEC bishop has given this TEC priest license to serve here. This happens all the time.

Accordingly, it is most certainly NOT a violation of TEC or Anglican polity for a priest currently geographically resident in one place to be canonically resident in another.

The issue is one for TEC - has the local TEC bishop given permission to this non-canonically resident cleric to serve there.

Canonical residency need not equal geographical residency!

ruidh said...

"To be very blunt, ruidh, the current TEC vicar of my TEC parish is NOT canonicaly resident in my TEC diocese, but is canonically resident in another TEC diocese. Our local TEC bishop has given this TEC priest license to serve here. This happens all the time."

Indeed, but this is not at all the arrangement we are talking about here. The priest in question is not seeking a license from the local diocese. Indeed, he purports to be outside of its jurisdiction. This is the essence of the abandonment claim.

JamesW. said...

ruidh: I understand the difference. I am simply pointing out to you that you are conflating two different questions, They are:
1) The transfer of the priest to the canonical residence of another Anglican bishop in communion with TEC.
2) Where the said cleric is thereafter permitted to work, and whose permission he needs.

What you are suggesting is that the TEC bishop must prejudge (i.e. be prejudiced) by trying to guess where and how the cleric will carry out his priestly calling, when the application for transfer is made.

What if the TEC bishop guesses wrongly? What if the priest sends the request while on vacation in Buenos Aires, and the TEC bishop is fooled?

The point is, that when the application for transfer of canonical residency comes in, the priest making the request HAS NOT "abandoned communion". The transfer is in order, and should be done.

Once that transfer is complete, the question ONLY THEN arises as to where that priest is able to work and whose permission is needed. And that is why the appropriate response by a TEC bishop is NOT "abandonment of communion" but rather to grant the letters dimissory, but then if the priest begins to act in the TEC diocese without permission, to make a formal complaint to the foreign bishop.

Think about it for a second ruidh - what right does TEC have in complaining against "border crossing" if BY TEC'S OWN ACTIONS, it has declared that that priest is NOT "in communion" with TEC. There is then logically no border-crossing going on.

If, on the other hand, the priest is transferred and still recognized as being "in communion", then TEC actually would have a valid complaint.