March 31, 2008

A New Service

A new service aimed at Pittsburgh Episcopalians is being launched today. It should also be of interest to Episcopalians elsewhere. Specifically, Pittsburgh Update is intended to “provide accurate and timely information” about “developments in the wider church that have the potential to affect [Pittsburgh Episcopalians].”

The first weekly post appears today, and it reports on the reorganization of the Diocese of San Joaquin, on the recent court decision regarding the property of St. James’, Elmhurst, N.Y., on the controversy over the recent episcopal depositions, and on a vigil to be held in support of Bishop Robert Duncan and the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. The stories posted are brief, but they contain links to conventional news stores and other sources.

Pittsburgh Update builds on the background material provided by A Pittsburgh Episcopal Voice, which is maintained by an increasingly diverse group of Pittsburgh clergy and laypeople. I am, for now, one of the editors.

Some Background

For those of us who have been trying to get ordinary Episcopalians to pay attention to church developments beyond the boundaries of their parish, it has been hard to know where to tell people to go for concise and relevant news updates.

Four years ago, I suggested that Via Media USA post a history of the current church conflicts and keep that history up-to-date. That never happened, partly because the history would be a long read and would be difficult to write and maintain.

My own parish recently faced the news source problem. I am on a committee that was concerned about how we can help keep parishioners informed of current events in the church. We could recommend no single Web site, or even a handful of sites, that could be relied upon effectively to deliver relevant news to Episcopalians.

This led me to scale down my original idea to something more manageable. Why not offer concise, objective news summaries with appropriate links? (One can hope that readers will eventually pick up the necessary background information.) This is the idea that has been developed into Pittsburgh Update.

March 29, 2008

Is Obama Applying for the Wrong Job?

Pennsylvania is receiving a lot of attention from the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. The battle for votes in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary is beginning to produce lots of stories in local media.

I awoke today to a segment on my local NPR affiliate describing an Obama speech in Pittsburgh in which the candidate said something like, “My first job will be to keep you safe.” I was still a bit sleepy, so that may not be a precise quotation, but it captures the essence of what Obama said.

I was struck by the emphasis. As Commander in Chief, the President surely bears significant responsibility for national defense. In the oath of office, however, the incoming President says, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” [Article II, Section 1]

We are not electing the Commander in Chief or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We are electing a President of the United States whose job is broader. His first job, I would suggest, is to “defend the Constitution of the United States,” including the Bill of Rights.

We currently have a President who is confused about his job. President Bush thinks that defending the country against foreign threats requires him to use any means necessary in doing so, including ignoring the Constitution and the civil rights of citizens and non-citizens alike.

What we need, however, is a President who has the priorities of the job straight, a President who will use any means necessary to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Obama could be that President. Or maybe not.

March 19, 2008

A Punctuation Oddity

Having written several rather serious posts of late, perhaps it’s time for some comic relief, or something completely different, anyway.

In the February 2008 issue of Trains Magazine, I encountered this sentence:
With the ClassOne Dispatch system, from Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya Inc. and Frisco, Texas-based ObjectTel Inc., BNSF radio calls now travel over what is believed to be the largest combination voice, data, and radio network in the world, expanding usefulness of the network, improving response times, and helping the company reduce costs.
There is reason to be thankful that I did not have to copyedit this sentence, which contains a number of pitfalls for the unwary editor. First, one has to be very sure about corporate and product names these days, which often violate conventional spelling (ClassOne and ObjectTel) and punctuation (Avaya Inc.) rules. The copyeditor (or fact checker) slipped up with “ObjectTel Inc.” The corporate name, apparently, is the slightly more conventional “ObjectTel, Inc.,” which you can verify from the company’s Web site.)

What particularly disturbed me about this sentence—yes, it is one sentence—is the way that Trains indicated the locations of the two companies responsible for the ClassOne Dispatch system.

Commas are used to set off instances of successive geographical or political divisions occurring in a sentence, as in this one: “The company has offices in Springfield, Missouri, and San Francisco.” We would normally expect commas around “N.J.” and “Texas” in the Trains sentence, except for the transformation of place names into compound adjectives. Whereas “Frisco-based ObjectTel” seems perfectly correct, “Frisco, Texas-based ObjectTel” does not. The punctuation seems to emphasize “Texas-based,” with “Frisco” left rather unconnected to the rest of the sentence. We expect a comma somewhere after “Texas,” which would make a clearer connection between city and state, but we don’t get one. Where would it go?

The Trains punctuation is surely defensible, though it is disconcerting. Because it juxtaposes two punctuation marks, most people would be reluctant to write “Frisco, Texas,-based ObjectTel,” but its meaning is clearer without its looking impossibly odd. More disconcerting is “Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya,” where “Basking Ridge” becomes part of a semi-open, semi-hyphenated compound.

Sometimes there just seems not to be a fully satisfactory way of punctuating a sentence. In such case, we are better off recasting the sentence to avoid problems. I would have written:
With the ClassOne Dispatch system, from Avaya Inc., of Basking Ridge, N.J., and ObjectTel, Inc., of Frisco, Texas, BNSF radio calls now travel over what is believed to be the largest combination voice, data, and radio network in the world, expanding usefulness of the network, improving response times, and helping the company reduce costs.
Isn’t that clearer?

March 17, 2008

Legal Matters

In an earlier post, I analyzed Bishop Robert Duncan’s letter to the Presiding Bishop intended to prevent him from being deposed by the House of Bishops. That letter, I am afraid, will not accomplish what it was intended to do.

Duncan’s Philadelphia law firm is doing better work on his behalf. As I noted in my first post on the material that the Diocese of Pittsburgh released today, the letter from Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP, to David Booth Beers, the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor can be read here.

In this essay, I want to consider the letter to Beers and some of the canonical issues raised there and elsewhere.

The letter from attorney John Lewis first asserts that Duncan’s affirmation in his letter (“I state that I consider myself ‘fully subject to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church.’”) has fulfilled the requirement of the Presiding Bishop’s letter of January 15 (“I would, however, welcome a statement by you within the next two months providing evidence that you once more consider yourself fully subject to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church.”) and therefore puts the matter of Duncan’s abandonment of the communion of The Episcopal Church to rest.

This is a strong opening move by Mr. Lewis, but the Duncan letter surely does not provide the sort of evidence Bishop Jefferts Schori was seeking. It may seem that the Presiding Bishop actually asked the wrong question, but I want to revisit that matter below.

Mr. Lewis’s next point is perhaps his strongest. He maintains, as others have done, that Canon IV.9 assumes that a bishop found to have abandoned the communion of the church must be inhibited before he or she can be deposed. Duncan has not been inhibited. The recent deposition of Bishop William Cox suggests otherwise, but a case can be made for Mr. Lewis’s point of view.

According to Canon IV.9, once the Review Committee has certified to the Presiding Bishop that a bishop has abandoned the communion of the church:
The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church, shall then inhibit the said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. During the period of Inhibition, the Bishop shall not perform any episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of which the Bishop holds jurisdiction or in which the Bishop is then serving.
The canon seems to assume that the three senior bishops will, in fact, consent to inhibition. It is possible that, in writing this canon, it occurred to no one that inhibition might not happen. Why would the bishops overrule the Review Committee? Lewis would have us believe that the matter is ended if the three senior bishops do not agree to inhibition. It is certainly possible to interpret the canon in the case where they do not consent to inhibition, however, and I plan to do that. I note, however, that the notion that the three senior bishops can interrupt the disciplinary process by not agreeing to inhibition is at least a little crazy. In practice, this means that a single, elderly bishop—if consent from three bishops is required, the lack of consent from one can prevent inhibition—can override the work of the Review Committee and possibly the entire House of Bishops, which, by this reasoning, has no say in the matter.

How do we interpret the part of the canon cited above if the bishop charged is not inhibited? Logically, everything after “During the period of Inhibition” is irrelevant. No restrictions apply to the actions of the non-inhibited bishop.

The canon continues:
The Presiding Bishop, or the presiding officer, shall forthwith give notice to the Bishop of the certification and Inhibition. Unless the inhibited Bishop, within two months, makes declaration by a Verified written statement to the Presiding Bishop, that the facts alleged in the certificate are false or utilizes the provisions of Canon IV.8 or Canon III.12.7, as applicable, the Bishop will be liable to Deposition. If the Presiding Bishop is reasonably satisfied that the statement constitutes (i) a good faith retraction of the declarations or acts relied upon in the certification to the Presiding Bishop or (ii) a good faith denial that the Bishop made the declarations or committed the acts relied upon in the certificate, the Presiding Bishop, with the advice and consent of a majority of the three senior Bishops consenting to Inhibition, terminate the Inhibition. Otherwise, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the House. If the House, by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent, the Presiding Bishop shall depose the Bishop from the Ministry, and pronounce and record in the presence of two or more Bishops that the Bishop has been so deposed.
If there is no inhibition, presumably, “certification and Inhibition” in the first sentence is equivalent to “certification,” as if the sentence ended with “certification, if any.” The next sentence refers to “the inhibited Bishop,” and so is irrelevant. Because this sentence is null and void where the bishop has not been inhibited, we can see that we may ignore everything in the canon up to the sentence beginning “Otherwise.” Without inhibition, it appears that the process by which the bishop offers a defense is short-circuited. This might explain why the Presiding Bishop did not actually ask for a “Verified written statement” as described in the canon. She asked for something a bit different, seemingly as something of a courtesy.

Is this reading reasonable? Why not? If the senior bishops think the case is not strong, perhaps it should just go to the House of Bishops, where it may be quickly dealt with or the bishops may initiate their own investigation in any way they see fit. This seems to be what the Presiding Bishop intends to do.

Lewis next suggests that the certification should not go to the House of Bishops because the charges are similar to charges brought against Bishop John-David Schofield before San Joaquin claimed it had left The Episcopal Church. No certification was forthcoming from the Review Committee in that case. Presumably, the current Review Committee either sees a difference in the two cases, or its members believe that the former Review Committee erred. I suspect that both are true. That the church made one honest mistake is no reason to repeat it.

The rest of Lewis’s letter simply argues for as many rights for his client as he can get. There is no need to discuss that here.

Two questions have been raised about the recent depositions of Bishops Schofield and Cox, and, since those objections might be brought in Duncan’s case, I would like to mention them here. First, there is the question of whether the spring meeting of the House of Bishops had a quorum. The parliamentarian and the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor say that it did, and this is a commonplace enough issue for the House for me to assume that these people know what they are talking about.

More complicated is the matter of what sort of majority is needed to agree to deposition when the House of Bishops votes on the matter. Consent to deposition must be given by “a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote” (see above). What exactly does that mean? Those who have suggested that the depositions of Schofield and Cox, all of whom seem to be on the staff of The Living Church, was improper contend that a majority of all bishops that can vote in the House of Bishops is meant. On the face of it, however, the canon could as easily refer simply to a majority of those present at the meeting entitled to vote. A follow-up story in The Living Church offers various reasons for accepting this interpretation.

I will offer additional reasons to think that no sort of supermajority is intended by the canon. First, since the Review Committee has already offered a judgment—in most cases, a judgment in which the three senior bishops concur—the House of Bishops is really just validating what is, presumably, a strong case. The history of the canon, however, suggests a reason for the presence of the confusing words “whole number of Bishops.” This canon, the first version of which was enacted in 1853, has been changed a number of times, usually in response to particular problems encountered in its application. An earlier version included the wording “a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled at the time to seats in the House of Bishops.” This wording clearly is intended to refer to all bishops who could attend a meeting, rather than those who actually do so. On the other hand, “a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote” could conceivably refer to all bishops who can vote or to all bishops at a meeting who can vote. Admittedly, the “whole number” locution suggests something special, but there is reason to believe that this odd phrase was merely carried over from the earlier canon. The interpretation of the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor seems as good as anyone’s here. If the General Convention believes that the effect of the canon should be otherwise, it can change it in 2009.

Duncan’s Defense

Below is the letter from Bishop Robert Duncan referred to in my post of earlier today, “Duncan Responds.” It is instructive to analyze the text, which is largely devoid of exculpatory material. To do so, I will insert comments within the text of the letter. My comments will be in larger type and longer lines.
14th March, A.D. 2008

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop
815 Second Avenue
New York NY 10017

Dear Katharine,

In response to the request set forth in your letter of January 15th (which enclosed the certification of the Title IV Review Committee), I state that I consider myself “fully subject to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church.”

In particular:
  1. I have striven to follow the Lord Jesus with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, all the while relying on God’s grace to accomplish what my sinfulness and brokenness otherwise prevent.
This, of course, is mere boilerplate. Duncan asserts that he is a sincere and committed Christian. The statement is somewhat self-deprecating, which is, no doubt, intended to be endearing.
  1. I have kept my ordination vows – all of them – to the best of my ability, including the vow I made on 28 October 1972 to “banish and drive away all strange and erroneous doctrines contrary to God’s Word.”
This does not address any particular charge. The remark about “strange and erroneous doctrines” is a not-so-subtle jab at The Episcopal Church. Duncan is not being charged with heresy, so his relation to church doctrine, whatever that might be, is irrelevant.
  1. I have preached and taught nothing but what faithful Anglicans and mainstream Christians have always preached and taught, with the exception only that I have supported and encouraged the ministry of women in Holy Orders.
Again, the charges against Duncan involve the discipline of The Episcopal Church—whether or not he has obeyed the rules of the church—not its doctrine. The assertion about what he has preached and taught is, again, irrelevant. His gratuitous comments are, however, interesting in themselves. On one hand, it could be said that Duncan is here making a grudging admission that the Church can change over time and has actually done so. (If the Church can change its views on the ordination of women, then why cannot it change its views on homosexuality?) This is hardly the message Duncan is sending here, however. The insurgency in The Episcopal Church is largely an Evangelical enterprise. Evangelicals believe that our church does not read the Bible literally enough. Women’s ordination is not a big issue for most Evangelicals. Just as Duncan has looked to “continuing” churches to enhance his coalition (see item 6), he needs the support of the most radical Anglo-Catholics, who view The Episcopal Church’s attitudes toward both gay and women priests (not to mention gay unions) as insufficiently respectful of the tradition of the Church. Duncan has always seemed genuinely in favor of ordaining women, but he needs the support of those opposed to it. (Until Bishop Schofield abandoned The Episcopal Church, the three diocesan bishops opposed to ordaining women have been supporters of Duncan’s schismatic movement.) Duncan walks a fine line trying to keep his unlikely coalition together. In this assertion, he is trying to keep the Anglo-Catholics happy.
  1. I have been present to all but two meetings of the House of Bishops (out of twenty-four) during the last 12 years. In those meetings I have clearly and openly opposed the theological and moral drift of the Episcopal Church, often in the face of great hostility and sadly, at times, derision.
Not attending meetings of the House of Bishops might be evidence of having abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church, but such a charge was not actually lodged against Duncan in the materials before the Review Committee. In fact, however, when Bishop Duncan attends a meeting of the House of Bishops, he usually does not stay in the same accommodations as the other bishops and he often absents himself from deliberations unrelated to the movement that he represents. The defense offered here is irrelevant, but it does raise additional issues that might have been considered. Duncan does take another opportunity to take a jab at the church and to play victim at the same time.
  1. I have made no submission to any other authority or jurisdiction.
Again, doing so might bolster the abandonment case, but no one has suggested that Duncan did what he here asserts here he did not do. What he has been doing, however, is working to create a new jurisdiction. His actions suggest that he intends to lead such a jurisdiction, one that is either parallel to The Episcopal Church or a replacement, in the Anglican Communion, for The Episcopal Church.
  1. I have gathered Anglican fragments together from one hundred and thirty-five years of Episcopal Church division, vastly increasing understanding and cooperation, though preserving the jurisdictional independence of all.
Finally, in this item, Duncan comes close to addressing the actual charges against him. Ironically, he construes his infractions as virtues. It is not his job, of course, to unite the various “continuing” Episcopal churches, but doing so is not clearly a bad thing. The actual allegation, however, is that Duncan is uniting the various splinter churches to form a jurisdictional rival of The Episcopal Church. Item 6 is actually a partial admission of guilt. Duncan fails to note that the unity he is working to create does not include unity with The Episcopal Church.
  1. I have, with the clergy, people and para-church organizations of my diocese, built missionary relationships all over the world, fielding both missionaries and resources on five continents.
Duncan has not been criticized for this. The statement is irrelevant.
  1. I have faithfully served and shepherded the clergy and people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh through what has, by God’s grace, been one of its greatest periods of extension and blessing. My intention is to continue in this call for what remains of my active ministry.
I’m not sure I even know what this means. It is surely irrelevant. Many of us in Pittsburgh do not feel blessed by the service of Robert Duncan!
Faithfully in Christ,
[signed] +Bob Pittsburgh
So this is Bob Duncan’s defense. Not very impressive, I am afraid. This letter is unlikely to save the good bishop from deposition. His lawyer has done a much better job, but I do not want to deal with serious canonical issues here.

I do want to mention one legal issue, however, which was pointed out to me by a real lawyer. (I neither am one nor pretend to be one on the Web.) Canon IV.9 speaks of a bishop charged with abandonment making “declaration by a Verified written statement to the Presiding Bishop” in his or her defense. Apparently, “Verified written statement” has a specific legal meaning in civil law, and this same meaning is applicable here (as defined by Canon IV.15). According to that canon, “Verification shall mean a signature before a notary public or similar person authorized to take acknowledgments of signatures on a document that states that the signer has personal knowledge or has investigated the matters set forth in the document and that they are true to the best of the signer’s knowledge and belief.” Also, “Verified shall mean that an instrument contains a Verification.” Duncan’s letter, which is not notarized, is clearly not a “Verified written statement to the Presiding Bishop.”

UPDATE: I have now posted a—dare I say it?—legal analysis here.

Duncan Responds

The Diocese of Pittsburgh today released a letter from Bishop Robert Duncan to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori dated March 14, 2008, disputing the facts concerning the certification by the Title IV Review Committee that Duncan has abandoned the communion of this church. You can read the letter here. I may analyze the letter in a later post; for now, all I can say is that I am unimpressed.

The date of the letter is interesting. By Canon IV.9.2, Duncan had two months, from January 15, to make a “declaration by a Verified written statement to the Presiding Bishop, that the facts alleged in the certificate [from the Review Committee] are false ….” It seems that the Bishop of Pittsburgh just made it under the deadline.

It is not surprising that Duncan would offer a defense. First, there are indications that the House of Bishops might meet before Lambeth to take up his case and other matters. Moreover, unlike Bishops Cox and Schofield, Bishop Duncan remains in place in The Episcopal Church actively subverting it. Writing a letter to the Presiding Bishop is cheap, and this letter really does not address any of the specific charges considered by the Review Committee.

I do not believe that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will be convinced that the Duncan letter is either an adequate defense or a recantation. It hardly seems, in the words of the canon, to be “(i) a good faith retraction of the declarations or acts relied upon in the certification to the Presiding Bishop or (ii) a good faith denial that the Bishop made the declarations or committed the acts relied upon in the certificate [of the Review Committee] ….” Should the Presiding Bishop want to give Bishop Duncan the benefit of the doubt, she should insist that he demonstrate the fact by ceasing his actions against the church and undoing his many actions that have harmed it. He will not, of course, do that.

It remains to be seen whether Duncan’s letter will have an influence on other bishops. It should not.

UPDATE 1. In my haste, I neglected to notice that a letter has also been sent on Duncan’s behalf to David Beers, the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor. The letter can be read here. One of its main points is that the House of Bishops cannot take up the matter of deposing Duncan because he has not been inhibited. However, the recent deposition of Bishop Cox, who also had not been inhibited, provides a precedent. I do not know if there are others. The letter from Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP, also asserts Duncan’s right to further dispute the findings of the Review Committee.

UPDATE 2: I have now written an analysis of Bishop Duncan’s letter. You can read “Duncan’s Defense” here.

March 12, 2008

Random Linguistic Oddities

Certain English words have multiple meanings, some of which can be virtual opposites of one another. “Sanction” is one of these, which can mean authorize or approve of, but can also mean to punish so as to deter. Consider:
Although the administration sanctioned waterboarding, Congress sanctioned the CIA operatives who utilized the technique in interrogations.
Can we construct a sentence using “sanction” that is ambiguous and whose possible meanings are approximately opposite? Actually, this is difficult, as actions are usually sanctioned (authorized), but persons are usually sanctioned (disciplined) for their bad behavior. I remembered that sporting contests are said to be “sanctioned” by sports governing bodies, however, which lead me to this sentence:
Because the all-women league was sanctioned by the ABC, rather than the WIBC, it was sanctioned by the ABC for failing to file the required paperwork.
(The ABC is the American Bowling Congress, and the WIBC is the Women’s International Bowling Congress. These two organizations have now merged.) The usage in the dependent clause of this sentence differs subtly from the corresponding usage in the first sentence. This observation leads to the ambiguous sentence:
The ABC sanctioned the league.
The usual meaning would be that the ABC sponsored or authorized the league, but the meaning of imposing a penalty on the league cannot be ruled out.

A similarly strange word is the verb “to dust,” which can mean to remove dust or to apply it. Consider these two sentences:
Malcolm dusted the cabinet.

Malcolm dusted the cabinet for fingerprints.
Two quite different actions are being described here! (By the way, “Malcolm” is odd in its own right. It contains both a sounded and a silent L. See my essay “Silent Ls” on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.)

“To trim,” another odd verb, can mean to remove part of something or to add decoration to it. What do you suppose this sentence means?
The logger trimmed his family’s Christmas tree.
The reader cannot tell without more context!

Finally, homonyms can sometimes be used to create sentences that sound alike but have different meanings. Somewhere, recently, I encountered:
You have been to much trouble.
This sentence acknowledges the efforts of another. This sentence, however, has a very different message:
You have been too much trouble.
Of course, although the words in both sentences are pronounced alike, we would speak the sentences with emphasis on different words!

March 3, 2008

Playing by the Rules?

NOTE: I have been following the presidential primaries closely, but I haven’t had much time to comment on them. Tomorrow, however, could be an important day in determining the nominee of the Democratic Party (or not), and this seems a good time to make a brief comment about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Let me begin with a disclaimer: My first choice for a nominee was John Edwards, but I am now supporting Barack Obama.
The Clinton campaign has suggested that it might argue that Clinton “victories” in Florida and Michigan should give its candidate additional delegates. The Democratic National Committee, of course, penalized Florida and Michigan for disregarding its regulations about primary dates, and the expectation was that no delegates would be seated from those states. Democratic candidates—and there were a lot of candidates when Florida and Michigan voted—pretty much eschewed campaigning in those two states, though Clinton celebrated her “victories,” even if they were essentially uncontested. Now there are rumblings that Clinton might also protest the admittedly idiosyncratic primary/caucus system in Texas, which is widely thought to favor Obama, though not because of anything he has done personally.

What’s wrong with this picture? Are not people are fed up with the brazen partisanship of the Bush administration, with its take-no-prisoners disregard for law and the Constitution (not to mention science and human decency)? Hillary Clinton’s similar attitude of winning at any price and trying to circumvent the rules that everyone knew in advance does not suggest that she is the kind of person the American people want to see in the White House. Is her attitude toward rules of the Democratic Party a preview of how she will treat Federal law and the U.S. Constitution if she becomes President? I don’t think I want to find out.