Secrecy and Paranoia Surrounds 9 Bishops as They Gather for Alleged Canonical Violations
By David W. Virtue
January 7, 2013
Nine orthodox Episcopal bishops have been summoned to meet Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and a panel led by Bishop Clay Matthews tomorrow at the Diocese of Virginia Roslyn retreat conference center in Richmond to hear charges that they have violated the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church by filing an Amicus brief in support of two deposed Episcopal Bishops in property disputes. Five of the bishops are active; four are retired.
The press have been denied access to the hearings.
The charges are as vague as they are imprecise. Two complaints were filed last year which surfaced at General Convention brought by two bishops, The Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl of the rump diocese Ft. Worth and the Rt. Rev. John C. Buchanan of the rump Diocese of Quincy. These two bishops claim the "Richmond Nine" officially injected themselves, intentionally and without invitation from the bishops exercising jurisdiction, into local litigation, opposing this Church and sister dioceses on core ecclesiastical issues regarding the very identity of other dioceses. They said they wanted the House of Bishops to set the record straight on the polity of the Episcopal Church regarding its hierarchical character.
They believe that by supporting Bishop Jack Iker of Ft. Worth, these nine bishops violated the Dennis Canon by falsely claiming that dioceses can leave The Episcopal Church, failing to safeguard church property and recognizing deposed bishops.
According to a press report from the church's national headquarters, John G. Douglass will serve as Conciliator for the meeting. He is a law professor and former dean of the T.C Williams Law School of the University of Richmond. According to Canon IV.10, conciliation is not a trial but a form of mediation.
Title IV canons outlining ecclesiastical disciplinary procedures were invoked. While this is not a trial but an attempt at conciliation prior to possible charges being filed, Title IV.6.3-4 says that a process can begin when the intake officer receives any complaint, upon which he or she "may make such preliminary investigation as he or she deems necessary, and shall incorporate the information into a written intake report, including as much specificity as possible."
Matthews, who heads the church's Office of Pastoral Development, also serves as the "intake officer" (the person designated to receive complaints alleging offense) for the church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops, a body called for in Canon 17 of Title IV. He was appointed the Title IV position by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
When these charges first erupted in July at General Convention Springfield, Bishop Daniel H. Martins said that his intention in attaching his name to the amicus brief was in no way to affect the outcome of that case. "As the Bishop of Springfield, which is in Illinois, it is no concern of mine how a property dispute in Texas is resolved. If my action has the effect of aiding one side or the other, that is, from my perspective, an immaterial consequence. Rather, I took the action I did with the best interests of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Springfield, as nearly as I can discern them, at heart. My principal concern was to not leave unchallenged the assertion that the Episcopal Church is a unitary hierarchical organism at all levels, and that the dioceses are entirely creatures of General Convention. I viewed signing the amicus brief as consistent with my vow to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church."
A knowledgeable insider said the charges are axe grinding on the part of TEC, just pure meanness to make life difficult for those remaining orthodox bishops the Episcopal Church would like to get rid of, if they could. "This is a political action play with ecclesiastical consequences; it has nothing to do with 'sound teaching' or theology. If conciliation fails and the bishops are brought up on charges that result in their being inhibited and deposed it would leave just two orthodox bishops left in the Episcopal Church - Greg Brewer, Bishop of Central Florida and Michael G. Smith Bishop of North Dakota."
Conciliation, according to the canon, calls for seeking a resolution "which promotes healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among the complainant, respondent, affected community, other persons and the church."
A conciliator will be appointed to assist in the process towards reconciliation. That person, according to the canon, should be skilled in dispute resolution techniques and without conflict of interest in the matter.
"If conciliation cannot be achieved within a reasonable time, the matter will be referred back to the reference panel," the canon states.
The quarantining of these bishops and the clamp down on information suggests that the bishops will be offered a face saving device to allow them to continue in office. On the other hand, if Matthews and the panel believe that the church is hierarchical (and they do) and, therefore, reject Bishop Martin's position that dioceses are entirely creatures of General Convention, serious consequences will follow that could lead to the ouster of the nine bishops. It might well be a tipping point for The Episcopal Church's liberals who watch with dismay as millions of dollars are spent on lawsuits to retain properties.
If these five suffragan bishops are deposed, it could lead to more dioceses fleeing TEC creating an ecclesiastical nightmare for the whole church.
The five sitting bishops are:
1. The Rt. Rev. Paul E. Lambert (suffragan, Diocese of Dallas);
2. The Rt. Rev. William H. Love (diocesan, Diocese of Albany);
3. The Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson (diocesan, Diocese of W. Louisiana);
4. The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins (diocesan, Diocese of Springfield);
5. The Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton (diocesan, Diocese of Dallas);
The four retired bishops are:
1. The Rt. Rev. Maurice M. Benitez (resigned, Diocese of Texas);
2. The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe (resigned, Diocese of Central Florida);
3. The Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith (resigned, Diocese of Springfield); and
4. The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon (resigned, Diocese of South Carolina).
Episcopal Church Public Affairs Officer, Neva Rae Fox told ENS that the information about the reference panel's recommendation is based on private letters that Bishop Clay Matthews, who heads the church's Office of Pastoral Development, sent to the nine bishops.
"As with similar letters, they are considered private and, therefore, we will not be making them public," she said. That's paranoia.
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