Friday, February 01, 2008

San Joaquin Standing Committee Shoots Themselves in the Other Foot

"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends"...in this case the "show" continues in San Joaquin, which is unfolding to be one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the Episcopal Church.

To back up just a little, you may recall that in December the leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin chose to abandon the Episcopal Church and join the Southern Cone. Even though such an action represented a flagrant disregard for the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, was clearly unethical (as it was an attempt to take property to which they had no right), and was most likely an illegal action, not one member of the Standing Committee rose to object. That is not speculation, btw. We watched the video feed. How the individual members of the Standing Committee voted is unknown, however an eye witness verified that not one of them voted against this action.

For this action, Bp. Schofield was inhibited and will most likely be deposed at the March House of Bishops' Meeting.

Bp. Schofield then proceeded to announce that six members of his Standing Committee were unqualified for office because they had not become members of the Southern Cone.

Next, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church announced that she can no longer recognize the Standing Committee of San Joaquin.

And now we have a response from six members of that Standing Committee. Do they admit that they did not faithfully discharge their duties? Do the four priests in this group promise to adhere to their ordination vows "to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church"? No. Instead, they chose to make extremely weak accusations against Bp. Katharine, as well as an only slighty veiled threat. Let's look at their most sad response a little closer:

...While you may hold any personal opinion you wish as an individual, the office of Presiding Bishop does not have the legal, canonical or moral authority to proclaim for the Episcopal Church non-recognition of duly elected members of a diocesan Standing Committee. Without having any canonical or constitutional authority to refuse to recognize us, we cannot accept your opinion as changing our status as the canonical Standing Committee of the Diocese...
This situation is not covered by the Constitution and Canons, as no one in their wildest dreams imagined a Bishop would leave for another jurisdiction and claim ownership of 47 congregations on his way out the door. Our Presiding Bishop has a responsiblity to not let such behavior go unchallenged. Since not one of you expressed your leadership abilities by speaking out against Bp. Schofield, you have revealed yourselves to be unfit for that office. Someone needed to remove you. The Presiding Bishop has stepped up to do that which must be done. To the four clergy; if you still consider yourselves to be Episcopal priests, you are persons under authority, and, since there is currently no Episcopal Bishop in place in San Joaquin, your Presiding Bishop is that authority.

I find it curious that instead of affirming their loyalty to the Episcopal Church, (the subject matter of Bp. Katharine's letter to them, which they never address in this response) these six former Standing Committee members instead make it clear that they do not recognize the authority of the Presiding Bishop, who is the one person who holds the postion of representing the Episcopal Church in the various councils of the Church.

Do they still consider themslves to be Epicopalians? I must admit that the arrogant tone of this letter suggests that they do not. And, if they do not, then the theory mentioned by a few people, which I initially dismissed as too bizarre, suddenly becomes a real possibility.

What if, just for the sake of speculation, when Bp. Schofield was told by his new boss that he could not be a member of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Southern Cone simultaneously, he hatched a new plan to have it both ways. If he is no longer the ecclesiastical authority of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, then that authority is passed on to the Standing Committee. If he dismissed six members of that Standing Committee, they could claim to still be part of the Episcopal Church, and thus the ecclesiastical authority. The result would be a Bishop of the Southern Cone and a Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church working together towards common goals. In this case the goal would be to run off with as many congregations as possible.

Far out? I would have thought so yesterday. But after hearing the tone of this letter, I'm not so sure. These are clearly rebellious priests.

Let's move on to look further at this letter:

...We regret that you have based your “understanding” on conjecture and misinformation. Since you do not provide any evidence of specific acts of the Standing Committee, nor proof of any wrong doing, we are unable to comment in detail on acts or events you may have relied upon to form your “understanding”. We regret you didn’t attempt to confirm your understanding with the President of our Standing Committee when you called him on January 9th, or on any other occasion...
No conjecture. No misinformation. We were watching. Your defense, if I understand it, is that you did nothing. Exactly. It is your lack of action that convicts you. Not one of you fullfilled your duties as Episcopalians holding such an important office by saying a single word against actions taken at your last Convention, which you were fully aware made you, and your Bishop, run the risk of facing charges of abandoning the Church.

Continuing with the letter:

...If the interpretation of failure to “well and faithfully perform the duties” of office is open to anyone, a cursory look at your performance in office would be cause for a great number of Episcopalians to find that you “have been and are unable to well and faithfully fulfill your duties as” Presiding Bishop. To name just a few of your canonical violations...
Can you believe this? Grown men are actually using the argument of "You did it first!" Unbelievable. But, let's humor them by looking at these accusations:

Ordination of the Bishop of Virginia without the specific written consents from a majority of Standing Committees as required in Canon III.11.4.b...
For those who don't remember, this came up when Mark Lawrence was denied consent for election as Bishop the first time. One reason for declaring the election null and void was that Bp. Katharine claimed that some of the consents did not use the correct "form." The consents came in language that was a summary of what the canons actually required. Some outrage was expressed because of the emphasis on this technicality, since the summary form had been used in other elections, such as in the election of the Bishop of Virginia. Of course, that election was not strongly contested as Mark Lawrence's was, and so was not under such close scrutiny. Was it a mistake? Sure. Is it even in the same ball park as trying to take 47 congregations out of TEC? Not even close.

Your intentional withholding [from May ’07 to January ‘08] of notification and failure to bring before the House of Bishop’s meeting in September 2007 the abandonment of communion finding of the Title IV review committee against Bishop Cox as required in Canon IV.9.2
This one is really digging deep to find something, anything, to use. Bp. Cox is one of their buds. Why would they want him to be deposed any sooner than he was? Deposing a Bishop is serious business. One would assume that Bp. Katharine was seeking as much counsel as possible, and giving Bp. Cox even more time to rethink his actions.

Your stated intent to delay consideration of the abandonment of communion finding of the Title IV review committee against Bishop Duncan past the March 2008 meeting of the House of Bishop’s [including your intentional withholding of notification from December 16, ’07 to January 15, ‘08] again in violation of the requirements of Canon IV.9.2.
The same point as the previous; do they really imagine we believe they wanted Bp. Duncan, another of their buds, to be deposed earlier? In this case, it is pretty clear that it was the difference of opinion among the Senior Bishops that delayed this action. In the end, they could not come to a consensus. Bp. Katharine could not proceed without their decision.

Establishing a missionary congregation in Bakersfield and appointing a priest who is not canonically resident to be under the supervision of Canon Moore and under your authority in violation of Canon I.13.2b and Canon III.9.6
This is a pastoral matter, and they know it. The people of Bakersfield no longer had an Episcopal Bishop or priest, since they had left for the Southern Cone. There was no Bishop to license a priest. The Church provided one for these faithful Episcopalians.

None of these questionable accusations even come close to the seriousness of the situation in San Joaquin. Why they would even compile such a feeble list is beyond my comprehension.

So, what conclusion do they come to, having "made their case"?

...With this evidence of your willful disobedience to the requirements of Canon, many Episcopalians could, using your own words, state they “do not recognize you as” the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. And of course, in the spirit of reconciliation, we would encourage you to be aware a “future declaration of adherence to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church and a reaffirmation of the Declaration of Conformity, will once again make you eligible for election to office in the Episcopal Church”...
Sorry, gentlemen, but based on your evidence, I would suggest that many Episcopalians would see you as being petty and childish about this whole matter. And then to suggest that it is our Presiding Bishop, who is trying to do her duty in the midst of a very difficult situation, is the one who needs to make a reaffirmation? Your arrogance provides further evidence to affirm the actions of Bp. Katharine.

And then the closing shot:

...In accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, we ARE the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese of San Joaquin in the event the House of Bishops should choose to depose Bishop John-David Schofield. Any attempt on your part, or on the part of any other person, to circumvent or replace the Standing Committee as the Ecclesiastical Authority will be a violation of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church...
Isn't this missing an "or else" clause? What good is a threat without stated consequences?

If you gentlemen ever hoped to hold another office in the Episcopal Church, I'm afraid that most likely you just blew your last chance. What were you thinking you would accomplish with such an ugly letter? This is probably the most important letter you will ever sign in your life. And you chose to write it as if it was just some backwater blog post or some other form of modern silliness? Do you feel better having played a round of "gotcha"? Did you get all of that snark out of your system? Well, good for you. I hope it was worth it. Enjoy your moment of gloating "We sure told her!" Remember it well, especially the clergy members of this group. When you've lost your orders and your congregation, which now becomes a real possibility, the memory of this moment may be all you'll have left. And for what good purpose?

Since this IS a silly blog entry, in a medium in which snark, passion, arrogance and straight talk does have some value, I might as well go even a step further. I take this personally. Why? Because I feel I've been played. Recently, on two different occasions, I went out of my way to give these six members the benefit of the doubt. And now it is obvious that I was mistaken in doing so. I see no evidence that these two lay persons and four priests have any desire to remain as faithful members of the Episcopal Church. This saddens me, but also frustrates me. What a waste.

As the proverb goes (the one that George can never get quite right); "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I'll not be played again, at least by this group. That I can assure you.

You've made your choice, gentlemen. Now you had better be willing to face the consequences. I'd say there is a very good chance that we'll soon see you in court.

So, where does this leave us? Well, it appears that soon we will have two Bishops in San Joaquin, one Episcopal and one Southern Cone (at least until we can get the courts to run out the invaders). And, (this is where it gets really interesting) we'll have three Standing Committees; one of the Southern Cone, one that refuses to publicly object to the Southern Cone, but pretends to be Episcopalian, at least until the court cases are over, and one which will be elected at a Convention of those faithful Episcopalians who remain in San Joaquin.

And now just a couple of final words from ELP:

If you follow me there's a speciality
Some tears for you to see
Misery, misery,
Roll up! roll up! roll up!
See the show!

J.

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