The putative (forgive me--it will be some time before I am able to omit that qualifier) Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin's (putative) Standing Committee has now formally charged 52 priests and deacons with abandoning the "communion of this church" and referred their names to the (putative) diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd Jerry Lamb. If he concurs with the Standing Committee's assessment, the 52 will be inhibited from the discharge of ordained ministry. If, within six months of inhibition, they do not recant in terms acceptable to the Bishop, he will depose them from their status as members of the clergy.
Of course, that matters very little to the 52 (it may be worth observing that the number might rise; there are lacunae in the data available to Bishop Lamb and Canon Hall), as they consider themselves, along with their bishop, clergy in good standing of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
SIDEBAR on Deposition: There are variant explanations floating in the ether as to the precise meaning of the canonical act known as Deposition. Any theologically-instructed Anglican would concede, one hopes, that there is no removing the sacramental mark conferred in ordination--once a deacon/priest/bishop, always a deacon/priest/bishop, ontologically speaking. But seeing as how we don't often speak ontologically, the question remains, and it is a very practical one. Some (inter alia, the author of the news release naming the names) contend that the scope of deposition is limited to the ecclesiastical purview of the Episcopal Church; thus, it is not "defrocking" as that term is popularly understood. Those who advocate this position contend that Deposition is not a punitive act, but a matter of administrative housekeeping.
When the Abandonment canon is used as it was originally intended--i.e. for a cleric who decamps without official leave to Presbyterianism or Islam or Secular Humanism--there may be some merit to this argument. But when the ecclesial destination of the alleged abandoner is a church that is ostensibly in full sacramental communion with the Episcopal Church (say, for example, chosen completely at random, the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone), large holes quickly appear. Implicit in the plain sense of the canonical language is an expectation that the sentence of deposition will be honored and upheld by all churches with which "this church" is in communion. So the fact that several Anglican provinces--a majority, one suspects, if an actual poll were to be taken--refuse to do so in recent cases is hugely significant.
Reading the actual list of 52 names left me momentarily breathless. I felt a wave of sadness with each one. I know 51 of them personally. Some have been close colleagues and friends. Many (the majority of the deacons, perhaps) have been my students in the San Joaquin School for Ministry. I have been a canonical examiner and an ordination planner to many of them. They are not mere names to me; they are real people with real ministries about whom I have firsthand knowledge. Reading the list still socks me in the gut.
Oh well. This sorry state of events is hardly a wholesome witness from the church to the world. And it need not be this way. As I have pointed out several times before, there might today be a legitimate Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin had the powers-that-be, from the Presiding Bishop on down, actually followed the Constitution and Canons rather than making a purely political power grab. I have a strong sense (which is somewhere between "I suspect" and "I know") that one or more of the names on the "List of 52" would today be on the rolls of such a legitimately constituted diocese.
And it's not too late to come clean and do the right thing. All it would take is for interested parties to invite Father Rob Eaton, the sole remaining duly-elected member of the Standing Committee, to appoint three clerical and four lay members to fill the seats of those wha have headed south (including one who went AMiA rather than Southern Cone). They could even be seven of the eight that serve now on the rougue equivalent of the same. Then, should he choose to resign, it could be all eight. Then they could call an interim bishop. It could even be Jerry Lamb. So, while the names of the players on the scorecard would not change, they would have the advantage of unimpeachable legitimacy, and it would send a strong signal to whatever is left of the "orthodox" flank of TEC that due process is still honored and they need have no fear of a pogrom.
In the meantime, Bishop Lamb, instead of deposing the 52, could follow the example of the Bishop of Western New York, Michael Garrison, and simply send their Letters Dimmisory to Buenos Aires. That, too, would be a reconciling act, a sign of swords being beaten into plowshares.
So I certainly can't be accused of not having a rich fantasy life! Alas, reality has little to do with my dreams. In reality, Bishop Lamb is committed to doing nothing that might compromise his lawsuit against Bishop Schofield as to which of them is legally the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, A Corporation Sole. On that eventual court decision rests legal possession of a bunch of ecclesiastical real estate currently inhabited by the 52.
And in reality, the Presiding Bishop continues apace with her policy of pursuing what she can get away with politically (which is apparently quite a bit) rather than what is proper canonically. She has "de-recognized" all but one of the members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which has recently followed San Joaquin southward. Of course, she has no authority to either give or withhold recognition of a diocesan Standing Committee, and particularly so of the lay members thereof. Some time ago, a member of the Executive Council of TEC anonymously phoned the rector of a parish in the Diocese of San Joaquin(I am given to understand that this was one of a series of such phone calls to parishes in "orthodox" dioceses) and posed various questions about how a gay or lesbian member would be likely to be treated in that parish. Without either the knowledge or the consent of the rector, he recorded the conversation and posted the audio on the internet. It turns out that this was a violation of California law, and when this was brought to the attention of Executive Council member, the audio clip was removed. But the rector pressed his complaint with the Bishop of Newark and the Presiding Bishop, asking for some disciplinary action against the culprit. The Presiding Bishop responded that she had no canonical authority to exercise pastoral discipline against a lay person, and no action was taken, save for expressions of regret that the event occurred. The same principle apparently does not apply when the offenders are lay members of a diocesan Standing Committee.
There will come a time, God willing, when we can look back on these years with some measure of detachment and perspective, and consider ourselves wiser and maybe even holier for having lived through them. May that day be hastened.