September 19, 2008

Reflections on the Deposition Vote

Yesterday was a busy day. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) issued two press releases, and I had a part both in writing and distributing them. In conjunction with that work, I was updating three Web sites, including this one.

Of course, what made the day a particularly tense one was the wait for news from the House of Bishops, which was meeting in Salt Lake City. The bishops were to take up the question of whether they would consent to the deposition of my diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan. The Title IV Review Committee had certified last December that Bishop Duncan had abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, and the Salt Lake City meeting was the first opportunity for the bishops to take up whether to authorize the Presiding Bishop to pronounce deposition.

Conversations with people in the Presiding Bishop’s office and with certain bishops had led PEP to conclude that a vote to depose was not especially likely, although some bishops seemed to be working behind the scenes to bring about that result. PEP had prepared three press releases for each of the likely outcomes: deposition (a sad but necessary step), a “no” vote on deposition (a problem remains unsolved), and delay (the bishop gets one more final chance to step back from the brink). All three press releases had been uploaded to our Web site. When I got the news of what action the House of Bishops had taken—this assumes that it was not “none of the above”—all I needed to do was to rename one of the files, delete the other two, and send out the appropriate text to those on our e-mail distribution list.

I had just returned from a dinner run to KFC when I got the news that the House of Bishops had voted to consent to Bishop Duncan’s deposition. I quickly did the required operations—the action of the House was straightforward—and began making some phone calls to discuss the unexpected outcome. Among others, I called a local radio station that had asked to be notified when I learned something.

Within PEP, there was, I think, a good deal of relief and satisfaction. Some of us had signed the accusations against the bishop and most of us had long ago concluded that he needed to be removed from any position of responsibility within The Episcopal Church. Many of our conservative brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh who expect to remain Episcopalians would have preferred that deposition be postponed until after diocesan convention, however.

I lost track of the number of telephone conversations I had last night, and I had the satisfaction of breaking the news about deposition to a few people. We all knew, however, that relief needed to be tempered by realism. A chapter in the history of the diocese was coming to a close, but an even more trying chapter was beginning.

Reading the comments available on the Web today is an interesting exercise. Duncan’s opponents are saying what a sad occasion this is and that we should be praying for Duncan and his family. No one seems willing to say “good riddance,” partly out of good manners, partly out of a desire not to be seen as dancing on Duncan’s grave, and, perhaps, mostly, because even deposition will not achieve the much-desired riddance. We are told that, although the bishop will not contest his deposition, he has (1) been accepted as a bishop of the Southern Cone (no doubt about his abandonment now!), (2) he is still collecting a salary from the diocese as a “consultant,” (3) he is fully expecting to be tapped as the bishop of the “realigned” diocese after October 4, and (4) the diocese has now set up a blog to collect tributes from around the world to the fallen, yet oddly resurrected, hero (see In Support of Bishop Duncan). One doubts that Duncan came into the office today to clean out his desk, which is what the church has a right to expect.

Duncan supporters who have not been searching their thesauri for words of praise for their deposed (or soon-to-be-deposed) hero, are busily trashing The Episcopal Church for a variety of imaginary sins mostly having to do with failure to “obey the canons” and to observe “due process.”

The good news is that Duncan’s deposition is assured. Some of us feared that, had the bishops deferred a vote, they might have chosen not to approve deposition should the October 4 “realignment” vote fail. On the other hand, deposition now is likely to create enough sympathy for Duncan to sway the votes of some undecided lay deputies to his side. (A few may be swayed the other way by the clear action of the House of Bishops, but no one seems to think that this effect will be the dominate factor as far as convention goes.) “Realignment” is expected to pass easily among the clergy.

There are, of course, two more weeks before diocesan convention. Apparently, Duncan’s employment by the Diocese of Pittsburgh will continue during that period. Why, one might ask, would an Episcopal diocese employ as a consultant a bishop who has been thrown out of The Episcopal Church? Duncan, of course, is an expert in subversion of the church, and it is clear that subverting the church is exactly the program of 7 of the 8 members of the Standing Committee.

It will be interesting to see if Duncan makes the episcopal visits scheduled for these next two weekends. Assuming that he is deposed presently—I am told that we should not consider him to be deposed until the Presiding Bishop pronounces deposition—then it will be even more interesting to see if Assistant Bishop Henry Scriven makes episcopal visits. Canon III.12.6(e) says:
No person may serve as an Assistant Bishop beyond the termination of the jurisdiction of the appointing Bishop or after attaining the age of seventy-two years.
I read this to mean that, when Duncan is deposed, Scriven is toast. Perhaps he will make the visits in a consultant role as well? (Do we have a liturgy for deposition, by the way? I thought +Katharine just waved her magic wand or something.)

Anyway, it appears that the Standing Committee will be responsible for running the upcoming convention. In all liklihood, the “realignment” votes will carry, and, sometime later, we will determine that all but one member of the Standing Committee will be claiming to be in the Southern Cone. This will mean that they are not in The Episcopal Church, and the ecclesiastical authority of the real Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will be the lone non-realigned member of the Standing Committee, who, one would imagine, the Presiding Bishop would have to recognize as running the diocese. (There is no reason for the Presiding Bishop to make such a finding, in the abstract, but the church needs to figure out to whom it should send diocesan mail.) Meanwhile, the other members of the former Standing Committee will likely hire Duncan as some kind of bishop under somebody's rules. Calvary Church and, perhaps, The Episcopal Church, will go to court to straighten it all out.

The real Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church eventually will call a special convention to put its house in order, and plans for that will no doubt go forward in parallel with the legal battles. After a brief moment of unexpected euphoria yesterday, I don’t think I want to think about that today.

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