November 8, 2008

The Anglican Neighborhood of Make-Believe

Yesterday, deputies of the group that voted at the October convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to leave The Episcopal Church elected Bishop Robert Duncan to be their bishop. The “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” issued the following statement:
Bishop Robert Duncan is once again the diocesan bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Clergy and lay deputies to a special convention of the diocese on November 7 voted to invite Bishop Duncan back into leadership of the diocese 50 days after the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church voted to remove (“depose”) him.

“It is good to be back. God has clearly watched over the diocese and watched over me and Nara as we have walked through these challenging days together. God willing, I look forward to many years together sharing the good news of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Duncan.

Leaders representing a majority of the world’s Anglican Christians, as well as many inside and outside The Episcopal Church in North America, never accepted the validity of The House of Bishops’ decision to remove Bishop Duncan from leadership. In spite of the decision’s deep defects, Bishop Duncan and the diocese elected to submit to the purported “deposition,” so long as the diocese was part of that denomination.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was able to invite Bishop Duncan back into leadership after it voted to leave The Episcopal Church and temporarily join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone on October 4. The diocese made the decision after years of disagreement with the leadership of The Episcopal Church over basic Christian beliefs about the authority of the Bible, the unique role of Jesus Christ in salvation, and Christian moral standards. At the conclusion of that diocesan convention, the Standing Committee of the diocese, led by the Rev. David Wilson, announced that there would be a special convention on November 7 for the purpose of electing a bishop.

With the election complete, clergy and laity from around the diocese are participating in the “Moving Forward in Mission” conference at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh on November 8. The conference features the Rev. Mike Breen, who has done extensive work helping parishes effectively make new Christians in their local communities.

“The most important thing now is to move beyond our conflict with the leadership of The Episcopal Church and turn all of our energies toward living as Christians and effectively sharing the good news of God’s love and mercy for all people in the places God has put us. I am looking forward to hearing what Mike has to say to us tomorrow,” said Bishop Duncan.
This is pure propaganda that deserves more analysis than I have time to devote to it just at the moment. I cannot resist offering a few actual facts that provide some context for evaluating this statement, however.

The “deposition.” Bob Duncan was actually deposed by The Episcopal Church. The canons were followed, though it is surely true that, like scripture, the church’s constitution and canons must be interpreted and implemented by actual, sinful people. There are checks in our church polity against misapplication of canon law, and none of those checks were subverted. Bob Duncan was actually deposed by The Episcopal Church. It was not a universally applauded decision. It is disengenuous, however, to call the deposition a “deposition” just because one does not like the result. I believe the Supreme Court erred when it declared recently that the Second Amendment articulates an individual, rather than a collective right to own guns. I believe the Court’s decision was wrongheaded, politically motivated, and destructive to the Republic. I take a step toward insurrection and anarchy, however, if I call the decision a “decision” and suggest that, because I think it was wrong, it is somehow illegitimate.

“Realignment.” “Realignment” is not a righteous revolution but is simple theft. The diocese’s voting to leave The Episcopal Church and to attach itself to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone is like the executives of the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company voting to leave Ford and become a division of General Motors. The Diocese of Pittsburgh is as much an integral part of The Episcopal Church as Lincoln-Mercury is an integral part of Ford. Unilateral “realignment” by the diocesan convention is simply beyond its competence to effect. (Much has been written on this topic that need not be repeated here. See my own “Unqualified Accession” and Joan Gundersen’s “History Revisited.”)

“Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” In the heady days of the dot-com bubble, a practice developed that became known as “cybersquatting.” In its simplest form, an Internet-savvy group or individual would register an Internet domain name before a corporation or organization that would be the logical holder of the name thought of doing so. An exorbitant price could then be demanded of the corporation or organization by the cybersquatter for the use of the domain name. Alternatively, the domain could be utilized in bad faith by the cybersquatter to trade on the good name of the the other party, potentially besmirching that good name through deception of cybercitizens. Bob Duncan did something very much like this by registering “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” a few months ago as a nonprofit Pennsylvania corporation, taking advantage of the fact that the real Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, a judicatory of The Episcopal Church and a longstanding, albeit unincorporated entity, had not formally protected that name. (See “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”.) We now have two entities calling themselves the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh,” one of which represents the continuation of the Episcopal Church judicatory and one ecclesiastisquatting on the name to deceive Episcopalians, the public, and, most importantly, the courts.

The Southern Cone. As he has done for the Diocese of Recife in Brazil, for the Diocese of San Joaquin, and for a motley collection of other church entities, the Primate of the Southern Cone, Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables, has welcomed the “realigned” Pittsburghers as a diocese of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. In Anglican Communion practice, this is highly irregular, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has given every indication that he will not acknowledge the legitimacy of such encroachments on the autonomy and exclusive franchise of a member of the Anglican Communion. To do otherwise would, in fact, invite similar encroachment into the jurisdiction of the Church of England. (The erstwhile bishop of Recife was not invited to Lambeth, for example.) More to the point, however, the constitution and canons of the Southern cone do not allow for the inclusion of a Pittsburgh diocese in the Southern Cone.

The Diocese of Fort Worth, which intends to follow Pittsburgh into the looking-glass world of Bishops Venables, Schofield, and Duncan, has conveniently provided an English translation of the constitution and canons of the Southern Cone. (One wonders if the average pew-sitter in “realigned” churches has considered the implications of being under the authority of a church headquartered thousands of miles away that conducts its internal business in Spanish.) Article 2 of that constitution, titled “Membership,” reads as follows:
The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, which shall henceforth be called The Province, is composed of the Anglican Dioceses that exist or which may be formed in the Republics of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay and which voluntary [sic] declare themselves as integral Diocesan members of the province.
How does the Diocese of Pittsburgh, “Episcopal” or otherwise, qualify as a diocese of this South American church? Clearly, it does not. Moreover, Article 4 sets out a procedure to amend the constitution that, like any such provision in a fundamental governing document for an organization, is complex and time-consuming. (Incidentally, Article 3, “Rules,” declares: “Where one Diocesan Constitution differs from the Provincial Constitution, the Provincial Constitution prevails.” That is ironic, in that the first constitutional amendment proposed by Bishop Duncan to chip away at the accession clause in the Diocese of Pittsburgh constitution declared that the constitution and canons of the diocese supersede those of The Episcopal Church. This amendment was the subject of the very first briefing paper of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh.)

“Diocesan Bishop.” Finally there is the statement by the “realigners” to the effect that “Bishop Robert Duncan is once again the diocesan bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” Since the thing that Bob Duncan now supposedly leads has absolutely no respect for established rules, I suppose that Bob Duncan can indeed be declared its “diocesan bishop.” After all, the entity nominally operates under the rules of the former Episcopal Church diocese, whose constitution it improperly amended. It has “adopted as advisory policies” the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, which nevertheless “should in no way be interpreted to suggest that The Episcopal Church has any authority over the Diocese, any Parish of the Diocese, or any Clergy of the Diocese.” (See page C8 of the 2008 Pre-Convention Journal.) Apparently, it was too much trouble to write real rules, since the entity’s sojourn in the Southern Cone is intented to be only temporary.

So, is Bishop Duncan “once again
the diocesan bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh”? Well, not if “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” is in the Southern Cone. (As we have established, of course, it isn’t, but both the “diocese” and the Southern Cone’s primate are pretending that it is.) The problem is that episcopal elections, like episcopal elections in The Episcopal Church, must be ratified by a wider constituency than a diocesan convention. Canon 2.2 of the Southern Cone addresses the election of diocesan bishops. It includes the following:
Once an election has been completed in a Diocese, the Diocese shall communicate the results to PEC [Provincial Executive Council] and the Bishops in the Province, and shall send them documents considered appropriate about the Bishop-elect, and finally the Diocese will provide the necessary information that will permit the other Bishops of the Province to ratify or reject the Bishop-elect based on extensive knowledge of the person.
All the bishops of the province and the members of the PEC have a role in accepting or rejecting a newly elected bishop. The details are not important for our purposes here, the point simply being that Bishop Duncan’s election does not make him, ipso facto, anything but a pretend bishop-elect of a pretend diocese of the Southern Cone.

Welcome to the Anglican Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Isn’t it appropriate that it should be headquartered in Pittsburgh, the home of Fred Rogers?

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