May 20, 2009

Accountability

The overwhelming message I found in the latest court filing from Robert Duncan and his fellow defendants in the Calvary lawsuit is the idea that a diocese, and particularly its diocesan bishop, is accountable to no one. (See “More Words from Lala Land.”)

According to the material from the Duncan attorneys, the diocese is not subordinate to the General Convention. The accession clause required when a diocese becomes a part of the church means nothing the instant after union with the General Convention is approved. The Dennis Canon does not apply to diocesan assets. Not only is a diocesan bishop not “under” the Presiding Bishop, but the office of Presiding Bishop is primarily ceremonial. (Why, one has to wonder, did Duncan ever long to become Presiding Bishop. Presumably, the impotency of the formal leadership position in The Episcopal Church will be corrected in Duncan’s Anglican Church in North America.)

Much of the theory put before the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas echoes the recent statement on church polity from a group of conservative bishops and its Anglican Communion Institute inspiration, Mark McCall’s improbable essay, “Is The Episcopal Church Hierarchical?” Duncan and his lawyers have extended even those extravagant claims to new extremes.

Isn’t it ironic that many of the same folks who insist that the autonomy of Anglican churches must be constrained by “interdependence“ and “accountability” seem to believe in the absolute independence of dioceses and their bishops, who, apparently, are accountable only to God.

Why is it that The Episcopal Church is tolerating the notion that our sister churches should have any formal power over our church whatsoever, when many of the people advocating such innovative relationships—and we are being sold radical changes in the Communion under the banner of “restoring” longstanding but broken relationships—are unaccountable even to formal, seemingly straightforward and binding canons. Does anyone doubt that fuzzy notions of accountability in the proposed Anglican covenant mean anything but that The Episcopal Church will be accountable, but our conservative critics will not be?

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