September 12, 2007

Something Dramatic

Is the diocese planning something dramatic to be revealed on Tuesday evening, or has Chancellor Devlin been reading too many spy novels?
That was how I ended my post “Pittsburgh Mystery” Monday. I actually thought that I might have been a bit dramatic myself. What more could the diocese do, after all? It had already gutted the accession clause in its constitution!

I must say that I underestimated the ability of Bishop Robert Duncan and his followers to create a parallel universe in which up is down, black is white, and wrong is right. More about that later.

Although I considered going to the Diocesan Council meeting last night, I did not actually do so; I knew that other loyal Episcopalians who had not been tripping out on hallucinogenic mushrooms would be there as observers. I had, I thought, done my duty by attending the District V meeting. (See “‘... the bishop didn’t say that.’”)

Revelations at the Diocesan Council Meeting

So what happened? A series of constitutional amendments are being proposed. You can read them here. These were accepted for passing along to the annual convention in November for its consideration. This was done with essentially no discussion and only token opposition. (Some members of Diocesan Council are elected by districts, and, by geographic accident, some districts contain enough mainstream parishes to actually elect one of their own to the Council. There were three votes opposed to the resolution to change the constitution.) Council also passed along a resolution that would rescind the unlawful changes already made to the accession clause of the diocesan constitution. (This resolution, obviously, did not come from the diocese.) At least one member of Council had trouble dealing with the cognitive dissonance of presenting two conflicting proposals to the convention, but the bishop explained that this was perfectly in order. (That resolution can be read here. The diocese eventually posted a version of this as well.)

The diocese quickly posted an explanation of what it was planning to do, along with a link to its own proposal and Bishop Duncan’s pre-convention report.

Cockamamie Theories

Bishop Duncan declares in his report that “it appears the time has come to begin the process of realignment within the Anglican Communion.” This, of course, is because The Episcopal Church has not submitted to the demands of those who have no authority to tell it what it should do and who would surely not submit to analogous demands made of them. He complains further that The Episcopal Church has not allowed “sufficient integrity to dioceses like Pittsburgh, concerning traditional Faith and Order.” I had not known that integrity could be granted by The Episcopal Church. I actually thought it was something one either had or did not have. What Duncan means, of course, is that The Episcopal Church is unwilling to allow a bishop to be unconstrained by its own faith and order—a constraint every bishop vows to accept at the time of consecration—rather than doing whatever he chooses because he—invariably he—believes he knows God’s will.

Duncan subscribes to the theory—likely because it is convenient, rather than because it is compelling—that the church is not really a church at all in the sense most people think of churches. It is not an unified whole, but a confederation of completely independent dioceses that unite with one another as long as it is convenient to do so. That this is patently ridiculous should be clear from the fact that the church’s constitution requires, in Article V, “unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church” in a diocese’s constitution. (This is hardly the place for a complete argument that the church is not a confederation, just as the United States of America is not a confederation. Interested readers should read Dr. Joan Gundersen’s essay in answer to the confederation theory, “History Revisited: Historical Background of the Proposed Amendment to Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” I also recommend my own essay, “Unqualified Accession.”) “Constitutional changes proposed for consideration at the 142nd Annual Convention,“ Duncan writes, ”would begin the process to exercise our right to end the accession of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” There is, of course, no such right.

This brings us to the substance of what the Diocese of Pittsburgh is proposing to do. For openers, the present Article 1 (Acceding to the General Constitution) is to be rewritten as follows:
The Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.
(Interested readers can find the current Diocese of Pittsburgh constitution and canons here.) This wording, of course, parrots the Preamble of the Episcopal Church constitution. There are two problems, however. First, the text eliminates any reference to the church’s constitution, and certainly to any “accession.” Then, there is the matter of declaring the diocese to be a part of the Anglican Communion. Provinces (i.e., regional churches), not dioceses, belong to the communion, and, although a few extra-provincial dioceses overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury are part of the Anglican Communion, one suspects that Rowan Williams has not blessed the arrangement contemplated by Pittsburgh. Even if the Diocese of Pittsburgh were in a province, be it The Episcopal Church or some other province, it would not strictly be a member of the Anglican Communion any more than it is at present.

A proposed new section of the constitution would, in fact, put the diocese into some unspecified Anglican province to be determined by canon, and, therefore, easily changed at the convenience of the diocese:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh shall have membership in such Province of the Anglican Communion as is by diocesan Canon specified.
A proposed new canon places the diocese, for the moment, at least, in “The (Protestant) Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” but the diocese is hedging its bets and, of course, threatening The Episcopal Church, should its House of Bishops, in the upcoming meeting in New Orleans, not surrender to the international tyrants who are the Anglican Primates.

The diocese has, in fact, nicely parameterized its future constitution so as to not require troublesome constitutional changes whenever it chooses to province-shop. This is how “deputies or delegates” to the General Convention (or whatever synod in whatever province) are described in the proposed constitution:
Section 1. At each Annual Convention, there shall be elected [four] Clergy and an equal number of lay persons to serve as deputies or delegates to any extra-diocesan conventions, synods or meetings that may occur between Annual Conventions and to which the Diocese shall be invited to send deputies. They shall possess the same qualifications as member of Standing Committee and shall be elected by a concurrent majority of both orders.

Section 2. At the same Convention, there shall be chosen in the same manner and with the same qualifications, the same number of Clergy and Laity to serve as alternate deputies.

Section 3. Should a vacancy among the deputies or delegates occur by reason of resignation, removal from the Diocese, death or otherwise between the stated times of
election, it shall be filled by the highest ranking Alternate, as determined by the General Rules of Order.

Section 4. In case of failure or neglect of the Convention to elect deputies or delegates, those already in office shall continue until successors are chosen.

Section 5. It shall be the duty of the persons so elected to signify to the Bishop, in writing, at least one month before the meeting of the extra-diocesan convention or synod, their acceptance of the appointment and their intention to perform its duties. If a person so elected fails to give this notice or fails to attend the convention or synod, the Bishop shall notify a replacement in accordance with Section 3 hereof.
Not content with a piece of southwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Duncan seeks empire. The amended constitution specifies the limits of the diocese as follows:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh embraces all those counties of the State of Pennsylvania known as Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland. Additionally, for reasons found satisfactory to any Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, parishes outside of the boundaries of the aforementioned counties may be considered for admission into union with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, provided that they meet all other requirements set forth in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for canonical admission.
Contrary to Episcopal Church practice, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has the potential to not even be contiguous! Imperial conquest requires rules for incorporating new territory into the empire, and that is given in the following text:
Any Parish formed and desiring union with the Diocese, and regularly organized according to the Canons, may be admitted into union with the Convention, on motion, by a majority of votes; provided, it shall have laid before the Convention its Charter and By-laws, or its original Articles of Association, or a duly certified copy thereof, wherein it expressly adopts and recognizes the authority of the Constitution and Canons of this Diocese, and commits to upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. And provided, also, that it shall have complied with the canonical requirements for such admission.
Hypocrisy reaches its apex here. (Well, maybe not. See below.) Whereas the Diocese of Pittsburgh is about to disregard completely the constitution and canons to which it pledged its unqualified accession, it now will demand absolute fealty from its own parishes!

And Cockamamie Consequences

Pittsburgh Episcopalians are used to the bishop’s mantra that he is not leaving The Episcopal Church, but the church is leaving him, walking apart, etc. We have learned to ignore such patent nonsense. However, my own parish became alarmed at this rhetoric recently when it received a letter (dated June 25) from Bishop Duncan suggesting that our newly selected rector might not be approved by him. The church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Mt. Lebanon, had made it quite clear, both to the bishop and to potential candidates, that it was committed to staying in The Episcopal Church. Priests who might wish for a different parish future, it was clear, need not apply. Bishop Duncan wrote:
Given the extraordinary moment of decision now before our diocesan family, and what I perceive as a trajectory likely to lead St. Paul’s to separation from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, I do not believe I would be faithful to my responsibilities as Bishop of all the people to agree to the call without Standing Committee consultation.
Because the parish wanted to stay in The Episcopal Church, it was, in Duncan’s looking-glass world, threatening to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Little did St. Paul’s’ Vestry members realize how seriously the Duncan intended his words to be taken. (The parish’s choice of rector was eventually approved, though perhaps because the candidate was so qualified that no reasonable excuse for not doing so was readily available. The bishop had more important matters on his mind.)

So what of churches like St. Paul’s if Duncan is successful at creating his non-Episcopal Church empire? The question was asked at the Diocesan Council meeting. (There are at least a dozen churches in this situation, and their numbers may increase as the bishop’s behavior becomes more erratic.) The bishop explained that the settlement agreement resulting from Calvary Church’s lawsuit provides a procedure by which parishes wishing to leave the diocese may negotiate their exit. The bishop says that this procedure can be used by parishes who want to remain in The Episcopal Church! This, of course, stands the settlement agreement on its head, as the point of the agreement, as far as Calvary Church was concerned, anyway, was to protect Episcopal Church property. Clearly, Bishop Duncan expects not only to remove his diocese from The Episcopal Church—apparently the Boston Globe got the story right—but to claim all the property as well. This is exactly what the Calvary lawsuit was initiated to prevent. Judge James may have something to say about the matter.

The Way Forward

The Episcopal Church is being challenged by a rogue bishop in a way it has never been challenged before. It is clear how we must proceed. Bishop Robert William Duncan has abandoned the communion of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Bishops, do your duty. Your church is waiting.

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