Let me make it quite clear where I stand on the Standing Committee’s use of Canon III.9.8:
- I believe that the clergy who left The Episcopal Church for the Southern Cone should be charged with abandonment of the communion of The Episcopal Church and, assuming that they do not return to the fold, should be deposed.
- Given that I believe the clergy are “amenable for” presentment for abandonment (see Canon IV.8), Canon III.9.8 appears to be inapplicable.
- Even if Canon III.9.8 could be applied, the canon cannot be invoked absent “in writing, to the Bishop of the Diocese in which such Priest is canonically resident, a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom.”
What is instructive here is the treatment of Bishop Henry Scriven, who was an assisting bishop to Bob Duncan and who announced his intention to return to England before the Pittsburgh schism. (A good collection of links to material related to this incident is available on Thinking Anglicans.) Scriven was apparently surprised when the Presiding Bishop released him under Canon III.12.7, “Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry.” Canon III.12.7 is the analogue of Canon III.9.8 for bishops, rather than priests. There were widespread protests that the Presiding Bishop’s action was punitive. My impression is that such transfers have, in the past, been handled informally through correspondence. The Presiding Bishop seems to have actually looked at the canons before acting and concluded that Canon III.12.7 provided her only authority for getting Scriven out of The Episcopal Church. The irony is that she was criticized for misusing the canons while she was actually applying, rather than ignoring them. She explained that her action did not affect the “‘indelible’ mark of ordination,” a statement not unlike that made by the Pittsburgh Standing Committee.
Clearly, The Episcopal Church needs a non-prejudicial mechanism for transferring a member of the clergy to a different church. From all I can tell, our canons do not provide such a mechanism. In retrospect, perhaps the suggestion offered in the editorial from The Living Church is on the mark. Should the church wish to make this change, however, it must be made in three separate places to apply to deacons, priests, and bishops.
Again, I must reiterate the need I expressed earlier for agreement on certain administrative matters among Anglican churches. It is ridiculous that there is no uncontroversial mechanism for transferring a priest from one Anglican jurisdiction to another. (See “The Covenant We Do Need.”)