January 11, 2008

What Didn’t Happen

That the Title IV Review Committee concluded that the former San Joaquin bishop, John-David Schofield, has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church should surprise no one. Even the fact that the three senior bishops of the church (Frade, Lee, and Wimberly) agreed to Schofield’s inhibition by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is hardly a shock. Concluding that Schofield has broken with the church that consecrated him a bishop is really a slam dunk, despite Schofield’s gobbledygook letter regarding his present status in The Episcopal Church. If what he has done is not abandoning the communion of this church, then Canon IV.9 might as well not exist.

The surprise, however, is that no charges have been brought forward against my own bishop, Pittsburgh’s Robert Duncan, or against the Bishop of Fort Worth, Jack Iker. Each of the bishops was warned by the Presiding Bishop that his anticipated actions at his diocesan convention last year would make him vulnerable to an abandonment charge.

The causes of action laid out in Canon IV.9 are indeed quite limited, and, although Schofield has surely abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church under any reasonable reading of the canon, the cases against Duncan and Iker, though strong, are admittedly less compelling. No doubt, successful presentments could be brought forward against either Duncan or Iker—the causes of action for a presentment are considerably more numerous—but the presentment process, which is lengthy and costly, is clearly an ordeal the church would rather avoid.

Given that the Presiding Bishop warned all three bishops, it is difficult to believe that the Review Committee was not asked to bring similar charges against the bishops of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth. What happened? Was the committee unconvinced that they had stepped over the Canon IV.9 line? Did the committee conclude that either or both of them had abandoned the communion of the church, but the three senior bishops were unwilling to agree to inhibition? Is, in fact, inhibition necessary if the Review Committee believes that the abandonment charge is valid? (The canon seems to expect inhibition, but there is some question as to whether charges can be brought before the House of Bishops if the senior bishops do not go along with the Presiding Bidshop’s pronouncing inhibition.) Knowing what didn’t happen, we would like to know what did.

What is in the future for Bishops Duncan and Iker? I suspect that there will be no more talk of disciplining them before the House of Bishops votes to consent to the deposition of John-David Schofield. If the bishops confirm the judgment of the Review Committee, it could be argued that there is no reason to bring presentments against Duncan or Iker, as abandonment charges against them would surely be successful once their dioceses follow the course of San Joaquin in “leaving” the church. Presentments brought forward today would take years to resolve, whereas Canon IV.9 could rid the church of these troublesome bishops in a little more than a year from now.

The downside of this calculus, of course, is perhaps more apparent to the Episcopalians of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth than it is to those who work at the Episcopal Church Center, serve on the Review Committee, or are bishops of Southeast Florida, Virginia, or Texas. We would prefer not to be subjected to the same uncertainty, disruption, and (no doubt) legal actions that are being visited on the people of the Diocese of San Joaquin. We had hoped to be spared that pain. Unless something dramatic happens that would convince whoever needs to be convinced that Duncan and Iker have abandoned the communion of this church before the Pittsburgh and Fort Worth conventions, the inevitable pain and suffering of faithful Episcopalians in those two dysfunctional dioceses will, apparently, be written off as collateral damage.