General Convention Sends Canons Allowing the Easy Removal of Bishops to Sub-Committee
No Increased power for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
By Sarah Frances Ives
Special to Virtueonline
July 10, 2012
Proposed canons called Dissolution of an Episcopal relationship (B021) that would have increased the Presiding Bishop's power in removing any bishop from a diocese were sent to a sub-committee this evening, likely ending these new canons.
The debates about this Resolution B021 began in the morning session on July 10, 2012. The proposed canons would allow the removal of any bishop from his or her diocese in about five months, which is faster than the previous time of fourteen months. Jefferts Schori would have increased power of choosing a bishop for a committee that would have formed a resolution against a bishop. This new process could have canonically forced the resignation of any Diocesan Bishop, Bishop Coadjutor, or Suffragan Bishop.
Also, in the proposed canons, the time allotted for reconciliation in this process was cut in about half. As the proposed canon was written, there was no right for the accused bishop to have copies of reports and there was no process for appeal. The proposed amendment would have begun on September 1, 2012.
On July 10, 2012, debate became lively after the proposed canonical changes were introduced to the floor of the House of Bishops. Bishop David Jones of Virginia said that earlier committee versions of this canon required "a higher threshold than the majority" vote of a Standing Committee to ask for a removal of a bishop from his or her diocese.
Another issue emerged when the request came that all bishops be allowed to vote on any removal. If only the bishops of jurisdiction would vote, suffragan and resigned bishops would have no voice.
Bishop Pierre Whalen of Europe challenged the canon as written saying, "Can any bishop be removed by a majority of bishops in jurisdiction? The whole house should vote to deprive a bishop" of their ministry. Whalen continued, "I don't like it. I don't think that any suffragan in this house will like it." Whalen and others requested that all bishops (not just ones with jurisdiction) in the House of Bishops be allowed to vote for the dissolution and removal of any bishop.
Both Bishop Brian Thom of Idaho and Bishop Clifton Daniel of East Carolina spoke out saying that the all the bishops in the House of Bishops should be voting for the removal of a bishop. Recognizing that the new process would not have allowed an appeal process, Bishop Brian Prior of Minnesota suggested that the House of Bishops as whole serve as an appeal process. Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire supported the right of only bishops with jurisdiction voting saying there was "a certain symmetry to have the same bishops voting to remove" as they are the bishops voting to allowing their position in the diocese.
Bishop Clay Matthews stated he was "sitting here and thinking about it further." He then concluded, "Since this involves all bishops, all bishops should be voting."
Bishop Gary Richard Lillibridge of West Texas, who referred to this as a "serious matter," asked two pertinent questions. He first asked if a bishop had to be present at the meeting to vote on the removal of another bishop or could all bishops vote. Jefferts Schori responded, "We have not formally clarified this." His second question was whether if a bishop is removed by vote, could the accused bishop challenge these rules and canons? Jefferts Schori responded, "You can always challenge it" but she was not sure if the challenge would have any weight.
Just when the discussion became lively and conflicts within the House of Bishops became apparent, a vote was hastily introduced sending the House of Bishops into private executive session. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori said that the discussion would continue at 3:15 PM after private conversations about this. In the afternoon this did not happen and at about 6:00 PM they announced more private meetings about these crucial canonical changes. Later this evening it was announced that the proposed canons had been sent to a sub-committee.
"Rules are written in blood" is a common saying in the aviation community. Every rule reflects a previous accident, which could have involved blood and death. The metaphorical blood that seems to be behind these canonical changes is the September 2008 inhibition of the ministry of Bishop Robert Duncan in the Diocese of Pittsburgh executed by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori. Most believe that Duncan's hasty removal did not follow church canons. Even the liberal Bishop Peter James Lee refused to go along with the quick proceedings for Duncan's removal, apparently designed by Chancellor David Booth Beers.
Duncan was informed about his removal only days before the final vote and it appears that all bishops were not allowed to vote for his removal but only those who showed up at the quickly arranged meeting of the House of Bishops.
If these canonical changes had passed, all hasty proceedings against bishops could have been legal in the Episcopal Church. The accused bishop had no right to see all reports about the situation, had no right to meet with the Presiding Bishop, and had no right of appeal after the simple majority vote of the Diocesan bishops.
The ramifications of these proposed canons would have been devastating. A simple majority of the Standing Committee or the Diocesan Convention could report a bishop with whom they disagreed, Jefferts Schori could plant her chosen bishop on the committee to accuse, and a quick vote at the next bishops' meeting could end the accused bishop's ministry without the right of appeal. Conservative bishops or even bishops who have challenged Jefferts Schori could have been at risk for this proposed five-month removal plan.
The canons called the Dissolution of an Episcopal relationship (B021) were proposed by Bishop Mark Hollingsworth of Ohio and endorsed by Diocese of New York Bishop Mark Sisk and Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts. The official Episcopal Church justification for this canonical change read: "In response to B014, the proposed canon provides an expedient and efficient means of seeking resolution and reconciliation to differences between a Bishop and a Diocese, in compliance with the requirements of Article IX of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church."
This victory accomplished by Bishop Pierre Whalen and others should be applauded for not allowing the continued over-reach for power by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori.
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