Sec. 7. Renunciation of the Ordained MinistryAs has become predictable, the militant traditionalists complain bitterly when the Presiding Bishop does just about anything. Most notable regarding the case of Ackerman is the tirade by someone who should know better, the Very Rev. Robert S. Munday, Ph.D., dean and president of Nashotah House. The “very godly and humble Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Keith Keith L. Ackerman,” Munday asserts in his derisively titled post, “The Red Queen Writes Again,” which appears on his blog, “never had any intention of renouncing his ministry.” Jefferts Shori’s contention that there is no way to transfer a bishop to another Anglican province is, Munday says, “not true.” His argument for this position is simply bizarre. Munday cites Canon III.10.2. Canon III.10 is titled “Of Reception of Clergy from other Churches,” and Section 2 deals with “Clergy Ordained by Bishops of Churches in Communion with This Church.” This canon speaks of the transfer of clergy into The Episcopal Church using Letters Dimissory. Based on this canon, Munday makes the following illogical conclusion:
(a) If any Bishop of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to record the declaration and request so made. The Presiding Bishop, being satisfied that the person so declaring is not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 but is acting voluntarily and for causes, assigned or known, which do not affect the person’s moral character, shall lay the matter before the Advisory Council to the Presiding Bishop, and with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the Advisory Council the Presiding Bishop may pronounce that such renunciation is accepted, and that the Bishop is released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordinations. The Presiding Bishop shall also declare in pronouncing and recording such action that it was for causes which do not affect the person's moral character, and shall, if desired, give a certificate to this effect to the person so removed.
(b) If a Bishop making the aforesaid declaration of the renunciation of the ordained Ministry be under Presentment for any canonical Offense, or shall have been placed on Trial for the same, the Presiding Bishop shall not consider or act upon such declaration until after the Presentment shall have been dismissed or the said Trial shall have been concluded and the Bishop judged not to have committed an Offense.
(c) In the case of such renunciation by a Bishop as provided in this Canon, a declaration of removal shall be pronounced by the Presiding Bishop in the presence of two or more Bishops, and shall be entered in the official records of the House of Bishops and of the Diocese in which the Bishop being removed is canonically resident. The Presiding Bishop shall give notice thereof in writing to the Secretary of the Convention and the Ecclesiastical Authority and the Standing Committee of the Diocese in which the Bishop was canonically resident, to all Bishops of this Church, the Ecclesiastical Authority of each Diocese of this Church, the Recorder, the Secretary of the House of Bishops, the Secretary of the General Convention, The Church Pension Fund, and the Church Deployment Board.
So if the Episcopal Church can receive clergy (and bishops are included when it says “all Members of the Clergy”) from other provinces of the Anglican Communion by means of Letters Dimmisory [sic], then it can issue those same letters when a bishop or other member of the clergy transfers to another province of the Anglican Communion.Not only does a canon allowing the transfer of clergy into our church imply nothing about how one might transfer clergy out of the church, but there also are canons that deal explicitly with the latter operation, namely the aforementioned Canon III.12.7 and the disciplinary canons of Title IV. I do not doubt Munday’s statement that “the Episcopal Church has transferred clergy to other provinces of the Anglican Communion throughout its history.” Those transfers, however, may not have been canonical.
Munday has yet another bone to pick with the Presiding Bishop. According to him, the Presiding Bishop need not even have been involved with the transfer. Again, however, he cites a provision of Canon III.10, which, in case you have forgotten, deals exclusively with transfers into The Episcopal Church. He then goes on to talk about Canon III.12.8(i). Canon III.12.8 is titled “The Resignation or Incapacity of Bishops” and is primarily about bishops who have reached mandatory retirement age. The provision Munday cites explains how a resigned (i.e., retired) bishop may transfer to another diocese by means of Letters Dimissory. Munday concludes that this mechanism could have been used to transfer Ackerman from Quincy to Bolivia. But nothing in the context of Canon III.12.8(i) suggests that the dioceses referred to can be dioceses outside The Episcopal Church. Munday is apparently hoping the reader is not paying close attention.
As I have noted elsewhere, I believe our canons are defective in that they do not provide for a straightforward way of transferring a clergy member to another church, at least one in the Anglican Communion. (See “Once More on Departed Pittsburgh Clergy.”) In fact, I even agree that the use by the Presiding Bishop of Canon III.12.7 was probably improper. My reasoning, however, is that Ackerman was indeed “subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8.” That canon is titled “Of Renunciation of the Ministry by Members of the Clergy Amenable for Presentment for an Offense.” I am hard pressed to think Ackerman any less guilty of abandonment of the communion of The Episcopal Church than Bishop Robert Duncan, who now plays an archbishop in the Anglican Church in North America. (Ackerman was quite imaginative in bugging out of the Diocese of Quincy before the diocesan convention did his dirty work, however.)
Like Bishop Duncan, Bishop Ackerman should have been deposed. I leave it to others to decide whether a seminary whose dean and president (and systematic theology professor) has the reasoning ability (or ethics) of the Very Rev. Dr. Munday deserves to be educating potential Episcopal clergy.
N.B. Minor revisions were made to this essay after it was originally posted.