November 19, 2008

You’ve got to be kidding!

David Virtue has posted a bizarre story about the retired Bishop of Eau Claire, William Wantland, who has been an assisting bishop in the now-“realigned” Diocese of Fort Worth. According to Virtue, Wantland, who now claims canonical residence in the Southern Cone rather than in The Episcopal Church, has written Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to ask that he be given honorary membership in the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops.

Virtue offers this quotation from the letter:
I am not resigning my Orders, nor am I abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church, being a member of a sister Province of the Anglican Communion, in compliance with the provisions of Canon IV.9. However, because I am no longer a member of The Episcopal Church, although residing within its jurisdiction in Oklahoma, I am no longer eligible to be a regular member of its House of Bishops. I therefore request that I be admitted as an honorary member of the (TEC) House of Bishops.
The request, we are told, is made pursuant to “Rule XXIV of the House of Bishops.” The rule is one of the rules of order of the House (available here on page 10 of the PDF and numbered page 194), and the relevant paragraph is the following:
Any Bishop of an extra-provincial Diocese which originated in the Church or any Bishop of this Church who removed from the jurisdiction of this Church to the jurisdiction of a Church in the Anglican Communion may be continued in relationship to this House as an honorary member. Thirty days prior to each stated or called meeting of the House such honorary members shall give written notice of their intention to be present to the Presiding Officer of this House. Seat and voice shall then be accorded such honorary members, upon the nomination to the House by the Presiding Officer. No vote shall be accorded the honorary member.
Virtue characterizes Wantland as a “canon lawyer,” though he is perhaps better called a “Philadelphia lawyer” for his knowledge a deviousness with respect to law, canon or otherwise. Recall that Wantland, a longtime critic of The Episcopal Church, was the principal instigator of the infamous PECUSA, Inc., scheme, along with John-David Schofield, John Rodgers, Chuck Murphy, and others. (The attempt to co-opt the official name of The Episcopal Church led to a successful federal trademark infringement suit brought by Bishop Jack Spong. This is, no doubt, one of many reasons the Anglican right puts Bishop Spong in the same category as Bishop Pike and Satan himself.)

In any case, Canon IV.9 is the canon under which Bishops Schofield and Duncan were deposed for their actions in support of “realignment.” (The canon can be found here, on page 36 of the PDF and numbered page 154.) Section 1 of that canon begins:
If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, or (iii) by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in this Church; it shall be the duty of the Review Committee, by a majority vote of All the Members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop.
No doubt, Bishops Iker and Ackerman will be deposed under this same canon. Bishop Wantland, who supported Bishop Iker’s bid to “realign,” is clearly trying to preëmpt similar charges against himself by suggesting that he is not guilty of acts that fall under provisions (ii) or (iii), though, by supporting “realignment,” he is, by analogy to Schofield and Duncan, guilty of acts characterized by provision (i).

Wantland’s move is like that of the boy who killed his parents and pleaded for mercy from the court because he was a orphan. He is out of The Episcopal Church because he is disdainful of it and wanted to be out of it, not because of circumstances beyond his control. If he wishes to be a member of the House of Bishops, he need only announce that he will stay in the church and not remove to the Southern Cone. I assume that the Presiding Bishop will see through this transparent scheme to escape deposition and will see to it that he is eventually also deposed under Canon IV.9. I find it interesting that Wantland seems to be hedging his bets in trying to preserve his ability to rejoin The Episcopal Church as a functioning bishop if “realignment” ends badly.

“Realignment” will end badly, of course, and The Episcopal Church will be better off for having gotten rid of Bishop Wantland once and for all.

Postscript. It did not seem appropriate to rehash the whole sordid story of PECUSA, Inc., here, but I recommend reading the collection of materials on the matter amassed by Louie Crew. In particular, read Bishop Wantland’s defense of his actions here. It will, I predict, produce a strong sense of déjà vu.

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