December 7, 2009

Background Press Briefing Concerning L.A. Episcopal Elections

Many stories have appeared in the press regarding the election of two women to be bishops in the Diocese of Los Angeles this past weekend. Stories both the the U.S. and elsewhere (e.g., the U.K.) have tended to get two matters wrong. For the benefit of the press, I offer below some background information, taken from the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.

Suffragan Bishops

First, the two candidates elected by the Los Angeles diocesan convention were not chosen to be assistant bishops, but suffragan bishops. This is not matter of simple nomenclature. Although the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church neither specify completely the roles of assistant and suffragan bishops nor clearly distinguish them from one another, the two types of bishops are chosen in different ways. A suffragan bishop is elected by a diocesan convention—note: elected, not appointed—much as a diocesan bishop is chosen in the American church. Generally one so chosen is a priest, although an existing bishop can also be elected a suffragan.

Assistant bishops, on the other hand, are appointed. The diocesan bishop, with the consent of the Standing Committee, asks the diocesan convention to authorize the designation of an assistant bishop. (Each diocese has a Standing Committee, comprising both clergy and laypeople, which acts as the bishop's council of advice and, in certain circumstances in which there is no diocesan bishop or the bishop cannot perform his or her duties, acts as the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese.) If the convention agrees to the hiring of an assistant bishop, the diocesan bishop appoints the assistant bishop with the consent of the Standing Committee. Someone so appointed must already be a bishop and is often one who is retired from another position.

The Consent Process

A number of reports and commentaries have indicated that the suffragan bishops–elect in Los Angeles must be approved by the individual dioceses of The Episcopal Church. The details of this process have usually not been made clear. A newly elected bishop must obtain the consent for his or her consecration from a majority of the bishops with jurisdiction (i.e., diocesan bishops) in the church, as well as from a majority of the diocesan Standing Committees.

Consents must be properly executed and must be received within 120 day of their being requested. The canons of the church do not specify criteria to be used by bishops with jurisdiction in giving or withholding consent for the consecration of the bishop-elect. Each Standing Committee, on the other hand, must certify that a majority of its members “testify that we know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order [Bishop].” Possible impediments are not enumerated by canon. The likely upset of the Bishop of South Carolina, the Archbishop of Nigeria, or the Archbishop of Canterbury may or may not be seen as an impediment to consecration by one or another Standing Committee.


The foregoing omits certain details found in the church’s Constitution and Canons, but it includes all the rules likely to be relevant to the path to consecration for the Los Angeles suffragan bishops–elect. Other details sometimes do matter, however, as they did in the first attempt to achieve sufficient consents for Mark Lawrence to become bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. For simplicity, I have omitted actual references to the governing documents of The Episcopal Church, but most of the information likely to be of interest can be found in Title III of the Canons.

The consent process, particularly for the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, will bear close watching. Bishops with jurisdiction who signed the Anaheim Statement pledging to uphold the three moratoria urged on The Episcopal Church can reasonably be expected to withhold their consent, and it is likely that most of the Standing Committees in their dioceses will do the same. (Standing Committees tend to be less independent than one might, in the abstract, wish.) The remaining bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees can hardly ignore the possible consequences of approving the consecration of another partnered gay bishop, but it is not clear whether such contemplation will work in Glasspool’s favor or against it.

Finally, however, we have the following provisions of Canon III.1:
Sec. 2. No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established.

Sec. 3. The provisions of these Canons for the admission of Candidates for the Ordination to the three Orders: Bishops, Priests and Deacons shall be equally applicable to men and women.
This is the basis on which Bishop J. Jon Bruno has claimed that it is not proper to deny consent for Glasspool’s consecration. One can certainly quibble about this interpretation and, perhaps more to the point, one can question the enforceability of this interpretation, even if it is correct.


  1. It's a thankless job, Lionel, but thank you.

  2. Quibble about Bp. Bruno's assertion? It is complete and utter nonsense. Is that a quibble?

    "I submit that any bishop with jurisdiction and any Standing Committee can give or withhold consent on grounds known only to them and without any explanation volunteered or coerced." The Rev. Canon Michael Malone on HoBD concurred by Louie Crew


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