November 12, 2009

11/12/2009 Updates

I want to update a couple of recent posts.

Canonical Problem

On October 10, 2009, I posted “What Are the Episcopal Church Canons, Anyway?” which was based on my discovery that a phrase had been left out of published versions of Canon III.9.11. I had trouble eliciting much interest in what I considered a serious problem that I hoped was not the tip of an iceberg. One attempt to interest someone I thought would want to do something about the problem got no response. When I started searching for someone else to contact, I discovered that the Secretary of the General Convention is actually responsible for the production the official version of the constitution and canons after each general convention, so I wrote to the Rev. Canon Dr. Gregory Stephen Straub.

It quickly became clear that I had found the right person. Canon Straub explained that this was not the first time an error had been found in the published constitution and canons. He said that, for the past three triennia, the actual editing of the constitution and canons has been done by the Archives of the Episcopal Church, to which he promptly dispatched e-mail. This quickly resulted in e-mail from the Archives acknowledging the error and assuring me that an investigation was being initiated. A few days later, I was informed of the results of that investigation.

I was very impressed that an investigation was possible. The Archives apparently retains intermediate work products, which provide an audit trail for determining how the text of the constitution and canons made the transition from pre- to post-convention version. Although actual keystrokes are not logged, the investigation did yield a credible theory of how the phrase “a declaration of removal” could have been deleted from the text of Canon III.9.11. In the final version, “Declaration of removal.” appears as marginalia annotating the section in question. Such marginalia is usually copied from the text to avoid introducing spelling or other errors. In this case, the text seems to have been cut, rather than copied. One might have expected the error to have been caught by subsequent copyediting, but that apparently did not happen. I am told that, since extensive changes were made to Title III by the 2006 General Convention, all those changes will be reviewed for correctness.

It is unfortunate, of course, that the people at the Archives made the mistake that they did, but I cannot but be impressed by their diligence, even if they fail to achieve god-like perfection. I am responsible for maintaining the constitution and canons of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and I fully appreciate the difficulty of such a job. I must also admit that the process I use in carrying out this task is not as meticulous as that used by the Archives of the Episcopal Church.

The Lists Revisited

In my post “The Lists,” I reproduced the lists of priests and deacons “released” by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh recently, as well as Bishop Price’s cover letter explaining the lists. The Rev. Dr. Bruce Robison, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh, pointed out in a comment that two of the priests on the list had died, making any attempt to remove them from the roll of Episcopal clergy seem both silly and inappropriate.

The priests in question are the Rev. Don H. Gross and the Rev. David MacKenzie. Gross died November 13, 2008, and MacKenzie died September 3, 2009. In other words, Gross died shortly after the realignment of October 4, 2008, and MacKenzie died nearly a year later, more than a month before the Episcopal diocese’s Standing Committee made its offer to realigned clergy. I have no doubt that both priests were in the camp of Robert Duncan, not of The Episcopal Church, but the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh acted too late either to punish these priests or to assist them in transferring to another church.

The release of dead priests by the diocese, which was almost certainly inadvertent, illustrates why Canon III.9.8 should have been followed more literally. That provision, “Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry,” begins as follows:
If any Priest of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, 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, it shall be the duty of the Bishop to record the declaration and request so made. [Emphasis added.]
The Standing Committee’s notion that a non-response to its October 5 letter was the equivalent of a written request was crazy on the face of it, and it is crazier still when the non-respondent is a dead man. I won’t further belabor this point.

If the Standing Committee released some clergy in error, did it erroneously fail to release others? I tried to answer this question, but it was difficult to assemble the required information from available public sources. Working from a December 2007 diocesan clergy list in the 2007 convention journal (the list begins on page 17), the October 30 lists, the current Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh clergy directory, and the church’s on-line clergy database, I initially identified about 18 former Pittsburgh clergy whose status was unclear. There were also about as many “released” clergy whose past residency in the diocese I could not establish.

Checking with friends, I determined that one or more of the Pittsburgh clergy who were neither released nor are listed in the Episcopal diocesan directory is deceased. A few others seem to have transferred canonical residence to other dioceses. Because the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh has not posted a 2008 convention journal, which would be expected to list all diocesan clergy, it was hard to tell who was being construed as canonically resident in that diocese. I did, however, discover a diocesan prayer list for September 2009 to August 2010. If one assumes that the clergy to be prayed for by the Anglican diocese are to be taken as clergy of the diocese, the status of many priests and deacons can be clarified. Using this, my analysis yielded the following:
  1. I found no evidence that two priests on the released list are actually in the Anglican diocese. In any case, they may well want to be out of the Episcopal diocese.
  2. Six clergy listed as being Pittsburgh clergy in December 2007 are on the Anglican prayer list and are shown on the Web as being resident in Pittsburgh. The names of these people probably should have been added to the 135 names on the released lists.
  3. Four clergy are in the same situation as the above six, except that they are not listed at all in the Episcopal clergy database on the Web. The names of these people probably should have been on the lists as well, but their status should be clarified. Some may have joined another Anglican or “Anglican” jurisdiction.
  4. One priest is listed in the Episcopal Church database as being in Pittsburgh, but he is not on the Anglican prayer list. I have no idea what diocese he thinks he is in.
  5. One former Pittsburgh priest shows up nowhere.
  6. At least two priests are canonically in both dioceses. This is strange and, to my mind, unacceptable.
Make of this what you will. If the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh made mistakes in tracking clergy—they certain seem to have done so—then they surely have the excuse that the Anglican diocese has been unwilling to share records or, for that matter, to coöperate in virtually any way whatsoever. The process of relieving clergy of their vows to The Episcopal Church therefore involved a degree of guesswork. If mistakes were made, I hope they will be corrected. Certainly, it is to be hoped that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will un-release the Rev. Don Gross and the Rev. David MacKenzie.

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