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House of Bishops Challenges Jefferts Schori's Increased Power

House of Bishops Challenges Jefferts Schori's Increased Power
The House of Bishops Raises Vote to a Supermajority in the Dissolution of an Episcopal Relationship

By Sarah Frances Ives
Special to Virtueonline
July 11, 2012

On the morning of July 11, 2012, the House of Bishops rejected the form of B021, which had been proposed to allow an easy, five month plan to dissolve the relationship between a bishop and a diocese. The House of Bishops appeared strong and unified as they spoke against the canon that gave Jefferts Schori an easy way to remove an accused bishop.

As it had been initially written, a new path of getting a simple majority of a Standing Committee or a Diocesan Convention along with a simple majority of the bishops with jurisdiction present at the next meeting of the House of Bishops would have removed any bishop.

On July 11, 2012, the original creator of the proposed canon, Bishop Mark Hollingsworth stated that a self-organized group of bishops met into the night working on this canon following the conflicted debate on July 10, 2012. Offering new changes, he proposed that the Standing Committee be required to have a two-thirds vote to present a bishop to the Presiding Bishop, not the simple majority of the first proposed canon. The next change would be that all bishops should vote about the accused bishop, and not just the bishops with jurisdiction. To vote on this dissolution, the bishop must be present at the next regular or special meeting. Hollingsworth stated that if a majority of bishops do not vote for the dissolution, that another recommended resolution would be presented at the same meeting.

Supporting Hollingsworth, Bishop Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles spoke in favor of the canon and said that the canon was "not a weapon or a tool or a threat." Bishop Pierre Whalen also spoke in favor of the newly amended canon.

Bishops politely listened and then a powerful spate of bishops sprang out to amend and largely speak against this newly proposed canon.

Bishop Larry Benfield of Arkansas questioned how a simple "majority of the diocesan convention" could refer a bishop for dissolution. He questioned about what would happen if neither the bishop nor the Standing Committee had an issue, but a simple majority of the Diocesan Convention voted. Hollingsworth admitted that this would be an "awkward" situation but that the Standing Committee still would represent the diocese.

Bishop Steven Miller of Milwaukee questioned Hollingsworth asking if they considered requiring "a supermajority of the convention" (a two-thirds majority) to vote to refer a bishop. Hollingsworth responded that they "felt a simple majority was sufficient."

Bishop Marc Andres of California stated that a simple majority vote of the House of Bishops for the dissolution of another bishop "does not seem the best to me."

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida stated that in all "humility" he needed more clarification about this. He brought up the possibility of the House of Bishops voting to dissolve the Episcopal relationship of a bishop and not receiving the majority vote. He then asked about the possibility of a third or fourth vote "until you get what you want." He concluded that his seems like "double jeopardy."

Hollingsworth responded that they had struggled with this but that "to drop it did not seem responsible. There needed to some way forward."

At this point, Bishop Gene Robinson moved the question in order to end the debate. PB Jefferts Schori acted on his motion and while the motion was accepted, a large number of bishops vocally voted against Robinson's motion.

Hollingsworth's initial motion was voted on and accepted but immediately a large number of bishops rose in support of amending Hollingsworth's proposed canon.

Bishop Thomas C. Ely of Vermont proposed to disallow the voting of resigned bishops. Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland and Bishop Thomas Breidenthal spoke against this, saying that resigned bishops should be allowed to vote. Breidenthal spoke persuasively about the unity within the House of Bishop, assuming they "vote with integrity" and for the "good of the whole."

The House of Bishops then voted on the amendment to disallow resigned bishops voting on dissolution, and the amendment failed. Resigned bishops would be allowed to vote on the dissolution of an accused bishop's ministry.

Following this, Bishop Martin S. Field of West Missouri took the leadership and presented an amendment that all votes for the Dissolution of an Episcopal Relationship should "become super-majority votes instead of simple majority." We should "rise to the highest form of decision making before any bishop is brought to the possibility of dissolution. We need a supermajority for the diocesan convention and the House of Bishops."

Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington spoke against Field's amendment saying that even if it is a simple majority of the diocesan convention, the "relationship is irreparably harmed."

Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota stated in support of the amendment, saying, "The seriousness of this situation requires a supermajority." He acknowledged, "Diocesan conventions can be divided very quickly."

Bishop Samuel Howard Florida brought a powerful example to the House of Bishops when he mentioned the play Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, saying that "We can see what happens" when opinions and feelings sway back and forth. Howard concluded, "We do need a supermajority at every level."

Bishop Miller of Milwaukee and Bishop Daniel Martins of Springfield offered more support to the amendment for supermajority votes at every level.

Bishop Brian Thom of Idaho called for the vote. The new amendment easily passed stating that the dissolution of the ministry of a bishop requires a two-third supermajority for all voting bodies.

After the passing of the amendment, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said nothing but appeared stunned.

That the now-failed canon was a creation of those seeking increased power for Jefferts Schori and others of the liberal persuasion can be seen in those who spoke out in favor of supporting the failed canon. On July 10, 2012, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire spoke out in favor of passing the canon, and on July 11, 2012, both Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles and Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington wholeheartedly supported the failed canon.

The newly-amended canon for the Dissolution of an Episcopal Relationship could help stop the use of this canon as a tool for political war against conservative bishops. The enthusiastic and effective group of bishops that voted these careful standards into place for the Dissolution of an Episcopal Relationship in the Episcopal Church deserves our congratulations.


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