GC2009: Proposed TEC Canons Close Loophole, Abandon Communion
By Michael Heidt
Proposed changes to Canons IV.9 and IV.10 close a legal escape route to priests and bishops leaving TEC by redefining "abandonment of communion" to "abandonment of TEC." If the changes are adopted by the General Convention, the Episcopal Church will have succeeded in writing itself out of the Communion it once accused others of leaving.
Title IV revision has been brought on, at least in part, by unprecedented use of Canons IV.9 and IV.10 to depose priests and bishops for the "abandonment of the communion of this Church." According to A.S. Haley at Anglican Curmudgeon, (http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2008/08/abandonment-canons.html) over 222 priests have been, or are in the process, of being deposed under these canons for leaving the communion of The Episcopal Church for that of other Anglican Provinces. Bishops such as Schofield, Duncan and Iker have suffered the same fate.
The problem with this is that it's an abuse of canons that were originally devised to deal with ministers breaking communion with the Episcopal Church and those Churches in communion with it. Hence Canon IV.9.1, dealing with the deposition of bishops reads:
"Sec.1. If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, or (iii) by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church..."
Canon IV.10, for the deposition of priests includes the same language; "abandonment of communion" in both instances sets the Episcopal Church in the broader context of its communion relationship with other Churches. This is precisely what the deposed priests and bishops haven't abandoned, as they are in communion with Provinces of the Anglican Communion that are still in communion with The Episcopal Church. Canons IV.9 and IV.10 therefore do not apply, legally, to them.
One way to handle this is to simply ignore the meaning of the Canons and use them anyway, albeit illegally. This has been TEC's chosen course of action to date, resulting in the justifiable charge that it's a lawless Church. The other course of action is to change the Canons, which is what is being proposed in resolution A185 to General Convention.
The changes, in this regard, are subtle and read, for bishops:
"Sec. 1 If a Bishop abandons The Episcopal Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church; or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same..."
As A.S. Haley points out in the Anglican Curmudgeon, the crucial phrase in this, and it's the same for clergy, is in the opening clause of Sec. 1; instead of "abandons the communion of this Church", we now have "abandons The Episcopal Church". If this is passed, it means that priests and bishops can be inhibited and deposed for leaving TEC, regardless of whether they've joined a Province or diocese in communion with it.
It is a seemingly small change, apparently doing little more than to bring Canon Law into line with current practice, but the ramifications are larger than at first they seem. If A185 passes, TEC will have written itself out of the Communion it purports to belong to, at least in terms of its conception of Holy Order. This will become "TEC specific", a very different vision from that intended by the framers of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which states:
"That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ to the world."
With A185, "Common Order" looks set to become a memory and, with it, the Communion that TEC claims to be committed to. This will be gone, to be replaced by a stand alone denomination, free to dispatch business as it likes, in this instance the business of deposing bishops, priests and deacons for remaining in the Communion it has seen fit to abandon.
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