March 17, 2008

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.

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