Friday, March 14, 2008

To All The Knee-Jerkers: Take a Pill and Read the Canons

Today some are in a frenzy, having smelled blood in the water regarding what they desperately want to believe are "canonical irregularities" at the last House of Bishop's meeting. One half of the team that put them onto this scent of blood was none other than George Conger, who we have previously pointed out sometimes gets his numbers wrong. That anyone would take a report from him as gospel at first reading is rather surprising. Here's part of that report:

Slightly more than one-third of all bishops eligible voted to depose bishops John-David Schofield and William J. Cox during the House of Bishops’ spring retreat, far fewer than the 51 percent required by the canons.

The exact number is impossible to know, because both resolutions were approved by voice vote. Only 131 bishops registered for the meeting March 7-12 at Camp Allen, and at least 15 of them left before the business session began on Wednesday. There were 294 members of the House of Bishops entitled to vote on March 12...
Now, sit down, take a deep breath, and let's see if I can explain the situation to you. No, I'm not a lawyer, and have never been a student of the canons, but I can read. Beyond that, dr. primrose was kind enough to point me in the right direction in the comments, so I feel fairly confident that I'm capable enough to help us work through this stuff.

It's about the Constitution and Canons, right? Then the first thing you need to do is go read them for yourself. You can find them here. We need to begin by considering if there were even enough Bishops present at their last meeting to conduct any business. Let's start by sorting out what makes a "quorum" of the House of Bishops.

From Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution:

Sec. 2. Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor, every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop who by reason of advanced age or bodily infirmity, or who, under an election to an office created by the General Convention, or for reasons of mission strategy determined by action of the General Convention or the House of Bishops, has resigned a jurisdiction, shall have a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops. A majority of all Bishops entitled to vote, exclusive of Bishops who have resigned their jurisdiction or positions, shall be necessary to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.
Now, unless there is some kind of legal jargon hidden in this that I'm missing, it appears that "resigned" (which would include "retired") Bishops have voice and vote, but do not have to be present to make up a quorum. Note also that "Assistant" Bishops are included, but "Assisting" Bishops are not.

If we look at Louie Crew's (L1 Newark 09) amazing compilation of information, by my count there are 132 Bishops who have not "resigned their jurisdiction." My count could be off by a few. See what number you come up with. That means that 67 active bishops would have been needed at the latest House of Bishop's meeting for a quorum to be present. Since over 130 were present, (possibly more or less...I'm using George's numbers, keep in mind) it's more than likely that they had a quorum.

Next is the question as to if there was a majority vote to depose John-David Schofield. For this part of our discussion, a tip of the saturno to dr. primrose for pointing out what should have been obvious to all of us, including the authors of the LC article.

First, we have to define some of the terms used in the Canons. In Title IV, Canon 15, we find this definition:

All the Members shall mean the total number of members of the body provided for by Constitution or Canon without regard to absences, excused members, abstentions or vacancies.
This seems to be the defintion the authors of the LC are suggesting, although that phrase it not used in regards to the House of Bishops. In Title IV, Canon 9, Section 1 "Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop," we do indeed find this terminology used, in reference to the Review Committee: shall be the duty of the Review Committee, by a majority vote of All the Members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop...
Yet, in the very next section, when speaking of the vote by the House of Bishops to depose, the phrase "All the Members" is not used. Here is the wording:

...Otherwise, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the House. If the House, by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent, the Presiding Bishop shall depose the Bishop from the Ministry...
Follow the process in that section. The Presiding Bishop presents that matter to the Bishops at a meeting. If the Bishops entitled to vote give consent, the Bishop is deposed. The wording suggests that it is a majority of Bishops at that meeting entitled to vote that is required. Otherwise, the terminology "All the Members" would have been included, as it was in the previous section.

The wording of that canon certainly needs to be cleaned up. That is quite clear. But, what is also clear is that the vote was indeed valid, meaning that John-David Schofield is no longer a Bishop in the Episcopal Church.

Now, can we please begin talking about something else?


UPDATE: From Episcopal Life:

The Presiding Bishop's chancellor has confirmed the validity of votes taken in the House of Bishops on March 12, correcting an erroneous report published online March 14 by The Living Church News Service.

Chancellor David Booth Beers said votes consenting to the deposition of bishops John-David Schofield and William Cox conformed to the canons.

"In consultation with the House of Bishops' parliamentarian prior to the vote," Beers said, "we both agreed that the canon meant a majority of all those present and entitled to vote, because it is clear from the canon that the vote had to be taken at a meeting, unlike the situation where you poll the whole House of Bishops by mail. Therefore, it is our position that the vote was in order."

A quorum had been determined at the meeting by the House of Bishops' secretary, Kenneth Price, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Southern Ohio.
"...the canon meant a majority of all those present..." All those present, or "the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" who were present, to clarify that both active and retired Bishops were to vote, without any qualifications, such as those included in the calling of a quorum.

No comments:

Post a Comment