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No censure for 9 US ‘disloyal’ bishops: The Church of England Newspaper, July 15, 2012 p 7. July 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in 77th General Convention, Church of England Newspaper, Fort Worth, Property Litigation, The Episcopal Church.
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The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has rejected a call to censure nine bishops for disloyalty.  Meeting at the General Convention in Indianapolis, on 8 July 2012 the bishops adopted a resolution affirming the loyalty and perseverance of Episcopalians in dioceses divided by secession.

The push by the provisional bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy to censure the nine has likely sunk any attempt to discipline the accused through the church’s legal system also. By pursuing the nine in the House of Bishops and through the church court system, they will have forced all bishops serving on the disciplinary board to recuse themselves from future deliberations.

On 28 June 2012, seven bishops received an email from Bishop Clayton Matthews in the office of the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stating that “as the Intake Officer for the Church, I am obliged to inform you that a complaint has been received against you for your action in filing of Amicus Curiae Brief in the pending appeal in the Supreme Court of Texas in opposition to The Episcopal Diocese of Texas and The Episcopal Church. In the next few weeks, I will initiate a disciplinary process according to Title IV Canon 6 Sec. 3 & 4 of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.”

A second email was sent the same day charging three bishops with misconduct for “signing affidavits in opposition to a motion for Summary Judgment made by representatives of The Episcopal Diocese of Quincy and The Episcopal Church in the Fall of 2011 to secure the Diocesan financial assets from a breakaway group.”

The nine bishops were not notified as to what violation of the canons they had nor were they told the names of their accusers. However, on 5 July the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, Jr., Provisional Bishop of Fort Worth, and the Rt. Rev. John C. Buchanan, Provisional Bishop of Quincy wrote to the presiding bishop asking the House of Bishops to “set the record straight regarding recent statements by certain bishops in our Church.”

The two bishops accused the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired Bishop of Texas, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, retired Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev. Paul Lambert, suffragan Bishop of Dallas, the Rt. Rev. William Love, Bishop of Albany, the Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Western Louisiana, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. James Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, the Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, retired Bishop of Springfield, and the Rt. Rev. Edward L Salmon, retired Bishop of South Carolina and Dean of Nashotah House of misconduct and called for their censure by the House of Bishops.

Bishops Ohl and Buchanan charged their colleagues with having “falsely claimed” that “dioceses can unilaterally leave” the Episcopal Church. They “denied the Dennis Canon and failed to safeguard Church property”; the “recognize the wrong bishops” thereby injecting “chaos into core ecclesiastical functions” of the Episcopal Church; and they “violated the ecclesiastical jurisdictions” of Fort Worth and Quincy by having endorsed legal documents pertaining to questions outside their dioceses.

The nine had given “aid and comfort to breakaway factions who would take title and control of substantially all of the real and personal property of this Church and cripple its mission and ministry,” the two bishops said.

The charges drew sharp criticism from church scholars.  Canon lawyer, Allan Haley – an attorney for the Diocese of San Joaquin – stated that the Ohl/Buchanan letter was “despicable” and “completely unworthy of the calling of a bishop. It is filled with lies and untruths.”

Professor Christopher Seitz, who also signed the friend of the court brief in Fort Worth, dismissed the charges as unfounded.  “This is a lot of grasping at straws,” he said.

One bishop told The Church of England Newspaper the letter was “ill-timed” and an “end-run” around the church’s disciplinary canons.

The nine rejected the charges of disloyalty.  In a 6 July letter to the House of Bishops they conceded their actions had been “controversial. We took these actions, however, precisely because we thought it our duty to do so in order to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church as we all have pledged to do.”

The charges brought were untrue, they said as they had never defended the actions of Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Forth Worth in seceding from the Episcopal Church nor had addressed the question of diocesan secession.  They had not discussed the Dennis Canon nor challenged the church’s right to “recognize its own bishops.” They fourth charged that by exercising their civic duties they had violated their ecclesiastical responsibilities was false.  “To our knowledge, no one has ever before suggested that petitioning the legislatures or courts in Washington or state capitols—our brief was filed in Austin, not Fort Worth—requires the consent of the local bishop.”

In two and a half hours of private discussion, the bishops heard representations from the accusers and accused.  One bishop told CEN that while the discussions had been “warm” and at times “emotional” and “tearful”, the animus and partisan bickering present at past meetings was absent in Indianapolis.

By the end of the third session it was clear that the push to punish the nine “had no legs” one bishop said.  Writing in his blog on 8 July Bishop Dan Martins said he had put forward the Mind of the House resolution that affirmed the Episcopal bishops ministering in the divided dioceses.

“This motion carried on a unanimous roll call vote. And it is in no way inconsistent with the amicus curiae brief that seven of us recently signed. My sense is that this has significantly lowered the thermostat in relations between the bishops. What effect it might have on the Title IV complaints remains to be seen. But I am hopeful.”

Speaking to Episcopal Café Bishop Buchanan said: “Bishop Ohl and I triggered this resolution by writing our letter. The House of Bishops spent nearly two and a half hours discussing this matter in productive and collegial conversation that worked toward reconciliation. The matter will continue to be discussed at future meetings of the House of Bishops.”

However, the Bishop of Chicago, the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee told an 8 July press conference the resolution adopted was “virtually” identical to one adopted in 2009 and broke no new ground.

While the conversations will continue, the push to punish with the House of Bishops has effectively ended, CEN has learned.  With the church’s intake officer assigned to review the charges, the members of the review panel that will first see the charges, the disciplinary board that will try the charges and the appeals board that will review the findings present at the meeting, along with the presiding bishop’s chancellor — one of the key witnesses for the prosecution — the impartiality of any future proceedings has been compromised, one of the nine observed.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.