February 14, 2012

Pittsburghers Nominate Episcopal Candidate by Petition

In addition to the four candidates to become the next Bishop of Pittsburgh announced a few weeks ago by the Standing Committee—see “Pittsburgh Episcopal Candidates Announced”—a petition has been received nominating a local priest. Assuming this person passes the standard background check, the subject of the petition will become the fifth nominee in the April election. The name of the petition nominee has not been announced.

This is, I suggest, an unfortunate development, and I will try to explain why.

To begin with, the petition candidate was certainly suggested to the Nomination Committee, which did not see fit to advance the candidate. Although I personally believe that no one from within the Diocese of Pittsburgh should be a candidate to become the next bishop—see below—I have reason to believe that the Nomination Committee did not have such a blanket prejudice against internal candidates. One has to wonder why this person was removed from the candidate pool.

Divisions predating the 2008 split in the diocese persist. To be sure, there is a liberal-conservative divide, but there is also a slightly different divide between those who recognized Bob Duncan’s schismatic designs early on and actively opposed them (mostly moderate to liberal priests), on one hand, and the late-comers to the stay-in-The-Episcopal-Church party (mostly moderate to conservative priests), on the other. I suspect that a priest in neither group would be warmly welcomed as bishop by the other group.

Surely, some will argue that a candidate from the diocese knows the diocese well and can, therefore, hit the ground running, as it were. The reality, however, is that any internal candidate comes with a good deal of baggage—the priest will not be seen as an objective observer and will, in fact, come with prejudices that are not readily put aside. A candidate with no previous connection to the diocese can view the diocese without emotions born of  recent conflicts.

It is clear that the Nomination Committee sought candidates with a strong background as reconcilers. The recent history of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is largely one of partisan conflict, however, not of reconciliation, so it is difficult to imagine an internal candidate being able effectively to build a strong community, perhaps the biggest challenge for the next bishop. Even Across the Aisle—see my September 20, 2008, post here—was more a marriage of convenience than a true unification of longtime and recent opponents of Robert Duncan.

Then there is the matter of the overall résumés of the four current candidates. I suspect that the résumé of the priest being nominated by petition does not compare favorably with those of the current candidates in terms of education, variety of experience (particularly in different dioceses), and relevant accomplishments.

Because the petition candidate was, in some sense, rejected by the Nomination Committee, the petition itself is a kind of rebuke to the committee. I believe that the committee was balanced and conscientious, however, and the petition itself is a blow to diocesan unity and collegial trust. The nomination process was carefully designed to avoid the kind of ambush represented by Duncan’s nomination from the floor in the last Pittsburgh episcopal election, but the addition of a petition candidate nonetheless cannot but bring to mind that unhappy event. This is not helpful.

Any internal candidate is likely to garner a number of votes in the early rounds of balloting simply by virtue of being a favorite son (or daughter). This could distort the election and, potentially, eliminate one of the other four candidates who might well be the best choice for our next bishop.

Aside from any strengths or weaknesses of the person being nominated by petition, I believe the foregoing considerations militate against this priest’s candidacy. I therefore urge the candidate, for the sake of the diocese, to withdraw from the field.

Update, 2/20/2012: Today, I wrote another post on the matter of an internal candidate for bishop. I invite you to read “Additional Thoughts on an Internal Episcopal Candidate for Pittsburgh.”


  1. We do not disagree often. And I will concede your more intimate knowledge of the diocese, after all I live in Chicago.

    The canons permit petition nominations. Nominating committees can err, and they can be so busy looking outside a diocese that they miss good possibilities inside it. In fact, I think that is often their most glaring failure.

    In any case, the reason we do not permit absentee ballots is that we profess a foundation belief in the promise that where two or three are gathered, He is there, and that He has sent the Comforter to us.

    Can outright evil sometimes overtake that belief, yes the church erred and ordained Duncan. I fear it was an error to ordain Lawrence too. That story is not yet written, but like you I suspect, i think I see the outline.

    Have the election. Five candidates or four, have the election. Let the Spirit blow where it will, and trust. My choice for the diocese of Chicago did not win, but I think the clergy agree that Bp. Lee is a superb bishop -- I was perhaps wrong.

    And if, as I might guess, the candidate emerges from the right-hand side of the aisle, win or loose, perhaps something is gained. After all, we tell the conservatives that though they are a minority in our time, they are valued and important. We do not promise victory, but certainly they have a right to compete.


  2. To a certain extent I agree with Jim. That there is a petition from the diocese is not surprising and the canons allow for it. Controling the Spirit is always bad.

    But there needs to be a bit of a place where the wind can blow in the election process.

  3. Lionel,

    You should go back and read the list of people who objected to ++Bob being excluded from the nomination process in 1995. It included people like Diane Shepard (whom Bruce Robison remembers haranguing him as she drove him to convention, about what a good bishop ++Bob would make). Now of course many of the liberals later suffered buyer's remorse, but if was an "ambush" it had a most ecumenical cast of conspirators.

    In many ways, the process surrounding Alden Hathaway's election was much more contrived (in the sense of his backers having a sense of where they wanted to take the Diocese).

    Surely you liberals aren't so poorly organized that you can't manage a simple election? The more recent votes for standing committee hardly give that impression.

  4. Jeremy,

    I, myself, voted for Bob Duncan. I thought he had done a good job as Canon to the Ordinary and deserved a shot at becoming bishop. Since I did not know his name was going to be put forward until the day of the convention, I had no time to consider the deeper implications of the fact that the committee had not selected him as one of the candidates. Moreover, I got a ride to the convention with Arnie Klukas, who was one of the movers and shakers seeking to elect Duncan.

    In retrospect, it is clear that the committee knew things about Duncan we were not being told and which probably would have changed the vote had we known.

    In the current circumstances, I do not have to know what the committee was thinking. The fifth candidate is a rather unlikely one. Several people have been guessing who it is, and, so far, none has.

    We do indeed have time to plan for this election, and we will do that.

    As for Hathaway, I have heard the stories, but I don’t feel qualified to comment on what happened, since, not only was I not at the convention, but I was not even in the diocese.

  5. Incidentally, WHY is the name being kept secret?

  6. The name is being kept secret by the Nomination Committee and Standing Committee because that’s what they’re supposed to do at this stage.

    Obviously, many people know whose name is being put forward because they signed the petition.

    In any case, it is not my job to reveal the name, and, if I did, I’m sure I would be criticized for it.

  7. A few of my sources tell me the mystery man is the Canon to the Ordinary Scott Quinn

  8. Jeremy--just to say that I would not and I don't believe ever have described Diane's robust and enthusiastic support of ++Bob Duncan in 1995 as a "harangue." She was attempting to be persuasive.

    As at the same time, as I recall, I was attempting to persuade her to support my old friend Gary Nicolosi.

    She was in any event more successful than I was, as I in any event did vote for ++Bob on the third and final ballot. And happily so, actually.

    Although I certainly parted with ++Bob when the course heading out of the Episcopal Church became clear later, that doesn't change the fact that back in 1995 I thought he was an excellent choice.

    Bruce Robison

  9. And per the second question, about the timing of the release of any names presented by petition, I believe the interval was designed to allow for the required "Oxford Document" background checks to be completed. The Standing Committee announces the final ballot on March 1.

    Bruce Robison

  10. Names are kept secret because of two reasons: First is they need to run a background check first allowing the nominees to be screened for any records. Second, they are not yet accepted as a nominee since their papers are not yet signed. - https://www.identitypi.com


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