October 13, 2009

Once More on Departed Pittsburgh Clergy

I understand that some readers in Pittsburgh were none to pleased by my post on how the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is trying to handle the problem of clergy who have departed for the Southern Cone. (See “Is Pittsburgh Treating ‘Realigned’ Clergy Properly?”) There are genuine differences of opinion within the diocese. On the other hand, I must admit that I made certain assumptions that were not actually true, and these colored what I wrote. This post is an attempt to clean up loose ends that I myself created.

Let me make it quite clear where I stand on the Standing Committee’s use of Canon III.9.8:
  1. 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.
  2. Given that I believe the clergy are “amenable for” presentment for abandonment (see Canon IV.8), Canon III.9.8 appears to be inapplicable.
  3. 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 I missed in reading the canons of The Episcopal Church—I don’t recommend this for recreational reading, by the way—is that The Episcopal Church appears to have no canonically approved mechanism for transferring clergy (including bishops) out of The Episcopal Church and into any other church, whether in or out of the Anglican Communion, without at least the appearance of malice. Although Bob Devlin’s literal reading of Canon III.9.8 seems to be on target, it may not be quite what the General Convention had in mind.

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.”)

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