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Doubts over deposition trial: CEN 3.21.08 p 7. March 19, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, House of Bishops, San Joaquin.
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The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has deposed the Bishop of San Joaquin and the retired suffragan Bishop of Maryland for “abandonment of the Communion” of the Episcopal Church following a closed trial in Texas on March 12.  However, a joint investigation by The Church of England Newspaper and The Living Church magazine has revealed procedural and legal inconsistencies that may render the vote a nullity.

The ecclesiastical trial of Bishop John-David Schofield was a necessary part of the Episcopal Church’s legal strategy to secure the property of the Diocese of San Joaquin, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said on March 12.  However, the flawed trial has created a legal anomaly leaving Bishop Schofield in place as Episcopal bishop of San Joaquin, when neither he, nor Bishop Schori, want him to hold that post.

“The current public dispute over the canonical legality of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ recent vote to depose Bishops Schofield and Cox amounts at best to a severe embarrassment to the Presiding Bishop, her advisors, and the House itself;  at worst, it exposes a travesty of Christian justice and prudence,” the Anglican Communion Institute noted.

“The result of this dispute and the failures of good order leading up to it will inevitably be the further erosion of [the Episcopal Church’s] standing in the public’s eye and in the Communion’s councils,” it said.

Bishop Schofield was consecrated Bishop of San Joaquin in 1989. Last December, he presided over a diocesan convention at which clergy and lay delegates voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone.  For this action Bishop Schofield was found by a review committee to have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church, and was suspended from office pending a trial.

Title IV, Canon 9 section 2 of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons requires that the House of Bishops “by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote” must give its consent to depose a bishop under the abandonment of communion canon.

Eligible voters are defined as both active and retired bishops.  Of the 294 bishops eligible to vote, less than a third were present for the trial.  To lawfully depose Bishop Schofield, 148 votes would have to have been cast in favor of deposition.

As of breakfast on the last day of the House of Bishop’s March 7-12 meeting, 115 active and retired bishops were present.  However, by the start of the trial only 68 active bishops answered the roll call, as did an undisclosed number of retired bishops.

The two hour trial in absentia began with a reading of the charges, followed by prayers from the chaplain.  The bishops then broke apart into small groups and then gathered in a plenary session for debate.

A voice vote was held, first for Bishop Schofield and then for Bishop Cox, and both were declared to have been deposed.  Questioned about the canonical inconsistencies at a post-meeting press conference, North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry defended the proceedings but admitted that there had been no discussion of its legality.  “We have acted in recommendation to our canonical advisers,” he said.   “We acted in accordance with the canons.”

During the press conference, Bishop Schori said she had refused to accept Bishop Schofield’s resignation from the House of Bishops because the canons required a sitting diocesan bishop of the Church to receive permission to resign from the House of Bishops.  His letter of resignation was flawed, she said.  “He resigned his membership in the House of Bishops, not his status as a bishop with jurisdiction.”

The Episcopal Church had to bring him to trial and to refuse his resignation, as it needed to “clarify the status of the Corporate Sole.  It is inappropriate for him to retain control of it.”

Trusteeship of the property of the Diocese of San Joaquin is vested in the Bishop, under California law, by means of a Corporate Sole-whereby the bishop by virtue of his office is trustee of the property.

Bishop Schori told the press conference that Bishop Schofield following the trial was “outside my sphere of influence.  No longer a member of the House of Bishops.  Not a member of the clergy.  Not my concern.”

However, the revelation that the trial failed to conform to canon law, and by failing to garner enough votes to depose Bishop Schofield, had resulted in his legal acquittal, sparked a firestorm of controversy.

The Presiding Bishop’s lawyer, David Booth Beers released a statement on March 15, stating that his “position” was that the requirement that all bishops eligible to vote could be interpreted to mean all eligible to vote who happened to be present at the meeting.

What steps will now be taken to remedy the situation are unclear as both sides are confused as to how to act.  Bishop Schori has already nominated a new bishop to serve as her designee in San Joaquin—retired Northern California Bishop Jerry Lamb.  However, leading clergy of the diocese who wish to remain within the Episcopal Church have declined to meet with him, citing the failed trial as evidence that Bishop Schofield remains the Episcopal bishop.

On Palm Sunday, Bishop Schofield preached in his cathedral in Fresno—with Bishop Lamb seated in the front row of the congregation.  Greeted with applause, Bishop Schofield defended his decision to affiliate with the Southern Cone as an act of moral necessity.

Bishop Schori had called a special convention of the diocese for March 29 to ratify Bishop Lamb’s appointment as Episcopal bishop.  However, under civil and canon law the failed trial leaves Bishop Schofield as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in the US Church, and Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin in the Province of the Southern Cone.

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Comments

1. 360 - March 19, 2008

Canon Conger,
The process for abandonment is not a trial [the word trial does not appear anywhere in Canon IV.9]. There are no witnesses, no rebuttal evidence allowed, no judge or jury, no appeal or review. Only a vote by HOB. That’s why the majority needed isn’t just those who are present but of a “majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote”. Bishop Schofield may not consider himself the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, but TEC can not seat another Bishop without first legally removing Schofield from that position. It really messes up the TEC plans to hold a convention [with boundary crossing by the PB and Bp. Lamb] on March 29.

2. John - March 20, 2008

TEC should have elected a uniter, not a hard-line divider as PB.

3. Dave - March 20, 2008

Well, now KJS is up against it. The only way to “clear the decks” for the new bishop will be to either:
a. Ignore the cannons or
b. Accept Bishop Schofield’s resignation.

Either way, a black eye for her.

4. 360 - March 20, 2008

#3 Dave
It’s a double black eye if KJS accepts Schofield’s resignation ..NOW. She made it perfectly clear before HOB and at the press meeting after HOB that Schofield’s letter failed to resign from jurisdiction in San Joaquin. So in that one statement Schori acknowledged Schofield as possessing jurisdiction of San Joaquin [hence the letter is inadequate] AND the requirement that Schofield HAD to be deposed to remove him from jurisdiction in San Joaquin. With the failure to depose she is stuck with the first statement; Schofield has jurisdiction of San Joaquin. She better start cancelling flight & hotel reservations for the 28/29th.

5. Barry - March 21, 2008

Well…..when the end justify the means, this is what you get. TEC, IMHO, no longer holds any “moral authority” to wit: DEPO, Dar es Salaam…even back to Lambeth 1998 resolutions regarding “scriptural authority”. TEC has become just another ‘feel good’ church. Hence my departure to OCA!
Peace,
Barry

6. Cathy - March 27, 2008

Sons and Daughters of Christ unite!!
Let’s use Love to overcome with His Might,
the problems that are giving Christ’s Church such a blight.

Satan is having a field day with us,
detracting from Christ and raising a fuss.
So, stop and think, “Who’s driving this bus?”

Overcome the anger, the egos, the greed
and let’s give each other the things that we need
to do Christ’s work, and help each other succeed.

The situation may not be considered quite fair,
by those with their noses still stuck in the air,
but Christ gave the answer: raise enemies in prayer.

The day we are standing in front of the Son
we’ll know that, for us, the battle is won.
But right now, look around. There’s Work to be done!

In the Spirit of Love, C.

7. Andy Hook - March 27, 2008

I completely agree with Cathy. I’m a Mennonite pastor who wants to be an Anglican priest. I cannot in good conscience join TEC because I do not believe they are being faithful and it seems that the PB, while speaking of tolerance and acceptance, wants to eliminate all who disagree with her. It reminds me vaguely of Star Wars and the rise of the Emperor. But I digress. I easily can see the Devil working through all of this to tear the Church into shreds. It is his mission to destroy God’s Church and he is succeeding in this. We must fight against him. We should pray not only for Bishop Schofield that he remains strong, but we must also pray for Schori. It may be easy to see her as an enemy, but she is till a sister in Christ.


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