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.”