Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fort Worth Chooses Limbo

From the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth:

...THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, pending final ratification by its 24th Annual Convention, withdraws its consent, pursuant to Article VII of the Constitution of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, to be included in the Seventh Province of the Episcopal Church.
Here's Article VII:

Dioceses may be united into Provinces in such manner, under such conditions, and with such powers, as shall be provided by Canon of the General Convention; Provided, however, that no Diocese shall be included in a Province without its own consent.
"...under such shall be provided by Canon..." What are those conditions? From Title I, Canon 9, Section 1:

Subject to the proviso in Article VII of the Constitution, the
Dioceses of this Church shall be and are hereby united into Provinces as follows...
So the Constitution refers to the Canons, and the Canons refer back to the Constitution. Why is that?

The Constitution uses the vague phrase "Dioceses may be united into Provinces..." which could be interpreted as making the provincial relationship optional. But, by referring to the Canons as setting the conditions, such an interpretation quickly evaporates, as Canon 9 uses much stronger language; "the Dioceses of this Church shall be and are hereby united into Provinces..." Being part of a Province is not optional.

Canon 9 refers us back to Article VII of the Constitution. The only additional information found there is the line, "no Diocese shall be included in a Province without its own consent." This is the particular statement that Fort Worth is referring to in their resolution. From this one line, they justify leaving their Province, with no need to join another one. Is that an accurate interpretation of the Constitution and Canons?

I don't think so. According to the Canons, one can indeed opt out of a Province, but in so doing must agree to join another Province, as is explained in Canon 9, Section 2, Item B:

By mutual agreement between the Synods of two adjoining Provinces, a Diocese or Area Mission may transfer itself from one of such Provinces to the other, such transfer to be considered complete upon approval thereof by the General Convention. Following such approval, Canon I.9.1 shall be appropriately amended.
Before the precedent of Missouri is mentioned, let me remind you of PEP's summation of that particular situation in response to Pittsburgh's announcement that they were leaving Province III:

...Article VII of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church does require that a diocese agree to its placement in a particular province. Pittsburgh did agree to being in Province III. The canons of The Episcopal Church specify the assignment of each diocese to a province. There is no provision for withdrawing from a province, only for transferring to another existing province. Missouri was originally in Province VII, which includes most of the Southwest. In the 1960s, Missouri decided that it had little in common with dioceses in that geographical area and would fit better in a more Midwestern region. It stopped participating but did not try to withdraw formally from Province VII. This situation helped encourage General Convention to pass a canonical change specifying a means by which a diocese could transfer to another province. Missouri then followed the specified procedure to transfer to Province V, which includes much of the Midwest...
It seems quite clear that Fort Worth, following the lead of Pittsburgh, is trying to find a way to be a free floating entity; in the Church, but not of the Church. Why is it so important to remove themselves from the Province? Are they concerned that the Province may force them to do something that would be contrary to their beliefs? This would be a difficult position to support, in light of Canon 9, Section 8: Provincial Synod shall have power to regulate
or control the internal policy or affairs of any constituent Diocese...
So what is Fort Worth trying to accomplish? I think this line from their resolution tells the story:

...provide pastoral and apostolic care to biblically orthodox Anglicans in this country regardless of geographical location...
It's Pittsburgh's "Province 10" idea. Remove yourself from your existing Province, based on a line from the Constitution taken out of context, and then plead for the formation of a new non-geographical Province.

What is highly unusual here is that this plea does not seem to be directed towards TEC, as there is no possibility of considering withdrawals from a Province, let alone the creation of a new Province, outside of General Convention, which will not meet until 2009. This plea seems to be directed to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Do they really think that Dr. Williams can magically whip up a new Province within TEC? That's simply not going to happen.

What Fort Worth and Pittsburgh know is that the minute they declare themselves to no longer be Episcopalians, their sees will be declared vacant. To avoid that, we have these rather bizarre statements being made.

Is Fort Worth part of the Episcopal Church or not? From this resolution, it seems clear to me that they are not.

More opinions regarding Fort Worth's resolution can be found in this article from the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


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