September 11, 2007

“... the bishop didn’t say that.”

I attended a Diocese of Pittsburgh event last night. It was a meeting of church members in District V, one of the regional groupings of parishes in the diocese. It was an “informational meeting” relating to the visions of the diocese’s future discussed at a May retreat of diocesan leaders. (See “Diocese Asks: What Next?”) Members of District V churches were invited to ask questions of two diocesan representatives, the Rt. Rev. Henry Scriven, Assistant Bishop, and the Rev. Canon Mary Haggard Hays, who appears to be Bishop Robert Duncan’s closest associate in the diocese.

Although four options for the diocese were originally proposed, the diocese has largely stopped talking about one of them, namely, that the diocese undo the unlawful steps it has taken to distance itself from The Episcopal Church—weakening the accession clause in its constitution, for example—and fully participate as a regular diocese of the church. It has been clear for years that Bishop Duncan and his allies have wanted to create a separate Anglican Communion province for their particular brand of Anglican Fundamentalism and to do so by removing parishes and entire dioceses from The Episcopal Church. Clear or not, however, Duncan has repeatedly told those in his charge that he is not leaving The Episcopal Church; The Episcopal Church is leaving him.

In light of such statements, it was refreshing when Boston Globe reporter Michael Paulson reported Bishop Duncan as having said that he would attempt to remove his entire diocese from The Episcopal Church. (See “Agreeing to Agree.”) Seemingly, the statement was made while Bishop Duncan was in Nairobi to participate in the consecration of two former Episcopal priests by the Anglican Church of Kenya to oversee breakaway former-Episcopal parishes in the U.S.

I decided to ask the representatives of the diocese if Bishop Duncan had, in fact, decided what should be done and was only trying to determine who would follow him out of The Episcopal Church. Furthermore, since such a move was canonically (and, almost certainly) legally impossible, how did our bishop intend to carry out his plan?

All my questions were not answered, but the response was certainly interesting. Canon Hays enthusiastically addressed my inquiries. She said, “Number one: I was there, and the bishop didn’t say that.” I found such a categorical denial of the Globe story incredible. Unless Canon Hays followed Bishop Duncan everywhere he went in Nairobi—stop, for a moment, and let that thought sink in—how could she possibly know everything he might have told a reporter? She could, on the other hand, know that Bishop Duncan was not supposed to say what Mr. Paulson said that he did. Will Canon Hays demand a retraction? Will the Globe print one?

Canon Hays explained, “He [Bishop Duncan] cannot, singlehandedly, move a diocese anywhere.” That is assuredly true. He needs supporters to help him realize his plans, and it is clear that the diocese’s “informational meetings” are part of a plan to convince lay Episcopalians to sign on with the ordained conspirators. (I do not expect that the opinions of any deacons or priests will be changed at these district sessions.)

I never got an answer as to how Bishop Duncan expects to carry out his program, but Canon Hays assured everyone that the opinions of the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor and that of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council that Pittsburgh has unlawfully changed the accession clause in its constitution are only opinions. (Presumably, Pittsburgh cannot remove itself from The Episcopal Church if its actions are constrained by the general church’s constitution.) Canon Hays admitted that no diocese has ever removed itself unilaterally from The Episcopal Church and implied that we will all be witnesses to how that plan works when our bishop attempts to execute it.

As is often done at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, my church, in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., the event last night was recorded. Rather than take my word for what happened, you can listen for yourself to the exchange I have described. At one point in this recording, I reiterated my objection that what Bishop Duncan would like to do is illegal. This brief objection cannot be heard because I had left the public microphone to return to the pew where I was sitting. The nature of my objection is clear from the response, however.


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