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Evangelical bishop under assault in America: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 14, 2011 p 5. October 14, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Canon Law, Church of England Newspaper, South Carolina.
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Bishop Mark Lawrence

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Bishop of South Carolina reports that he is being investigated by a church disciplinary committee for having abandoned the Episcopal Church.

One of the few remaining conservative bishops in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Mark Lawrence has been sharply critical of the Church’s embrace of the gay agenda and the new morality. While removing him from the House of Bishops would silence his voice, it will also provoke a constitutional crisis for the Episcopal Church, canon lawyers tell The Church of England Newspaper.

The national church’s Title IV Disciplinary Canons — which went into effect in July — do not have legal force in South Carolina following amendments to its bylaws made by the diocesan convention. The South Carolina Supreme Court has also nullified the Dennis Canon, saying the national Church rule that property is held in trust for the diocese and the national Church is invalid in that state –- effectively placing the diocese and its property beyond the reach of the national Church and its allies.

On 5 October Bishop Mark Lawrence and the president of the diocesan standing committee, Dean Paul Fuener, reported that on 29 September the diocese received a letter from Bishop Dorsey Henderson, the president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, stating that “serious charges” had been lodged against the bishop.

Bishop Henderson forwarded a 63-page indictment of 12 charges brought by unnamed accusers alleging Bishop Lawrence’s actions violated canon law. A Church attorney had also been appointed to investigate the charges, South Carolina learned.

The Church attorney, Josephine Hicks, was the Episcopal Church’s lay representative to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). At ACC-14 in Kingston she gave a spirited defence of the Episcopal Church’s legal war against defecting dioceses when questions were raised by delegates from the Global South about the about the probity of the Episcopal Church’s conduct.

In an unusual twist to normal jurisprudence, the prosecutor in the case, Ms Hicks is entitled to vote in the deliberations on the bishop’s guilt or innocence.

Among the charges listed was the accusation that an October 2009 synod vote violated national canon law. The diocese voted to “begin withdrawing from all bodies of the Episcopal Church that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them, the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference which have expressed the mind of the Communion, the Book of Common Prayer, and our Constitution and Canons, until such bodies show willingness to repent of such actions.”

The diocese’s endorsement of the Anglican Covenant, its opposition to national Church support for abortion, and the content of a number of articles and speeches made by the bishop have been cited as evidence of his unfaithfulness to the church, as well as his decision to ordain his son to the priesthood.

The charge sheet alleges the Rev Chadwick Lawrence was not a proper deacon when he was ordained a priest by his father.

On 10 October, Bishop Henderson released a statement saying the disciplinary board would not follow the new canonical procedures, but would follow an expedited process to review the charges as Bishop Lawrence was being charged with abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church. The Anglican Communion Institute has criticised this decision, noting the canons do not allow Bishop Henderson to dispense with the rules of procedure.

In an interview with Anglican TV, canon lawyer Allan Haley stated the prosecution of the case presents problems for the national Church. “South Carolina doesn’t recognize the new canons” used to indict Bishop Lawrence and it is likely they will refuse to cooperate with the investigation, he said.

Mr Haley noted the Episcopal Church “has no constitutional court to decide this issue” of a conflict of laws and should it take action against Bishop Lawrence and South Carolina, it could not enforce its decisions through the civil courts.

On 10 October Bishop Lawrence met with the South Carolina clergy to discuss the case. A response to the charges from the diocese is expected shortly.