Conflicts Galore on the Kangaroo Court


In a series of five posts earlier this month (links to the first, second, third, fourth and fifth), I have examined the patent procedural irregularities and bias which attend the deliberations of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops as it looks into vague and vacuous claims that Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina has "abandoned the Episcopal Church" -- by refusing to go along with the latter's theological and canonical excursions into a metaphysical Wonderland. In particular, we saw first how the Board's original "Church Attorney", and then its Chair and one other member, were hopelessly conflicted by the public stances they had taken earlier on issues which are in total disagreement with -- indeed, are the exact opposite of -- the stances of Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese on those issues.

This is not a recipe for impartiality, or for cool and calm judgments at the highest level. Like the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Wonderland, the people who are sitting in judgment on Mark Lawrence have already announced their predilections well beforehand. That they have not yet voluntarily recused themselves from these proceedings is a scandal. Indeed: their failure to do so is what allows the resulting proceedings to be dubbed, in the provincial vernacular, "a kangaroo court." (A tip o' the Rumpolean bowler to Robin G. Jordan of Anglicans Ablaze for finding the wonderful image with which to illustrate this post.)

In this post, I want to lay out for all to see the conflicts (in addition to those I have already made manifest) which should disqualify still other members of the Board from proceeding any further in examining the claims made against Bishop Lawrence. Let us start with his colleagues -- the bishops who sit on the Board besides its President, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson.

The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut, is presuming to judge whether, by leading his Diocese to remove its accession to the Canons of General Convention, Bishop Lawrence has thereby "abandoned" communion with ECUSA. Bishop Douglas should accuse himself of that charge, because he now leads a Diocese which has never acceded to the Canons of General Convention, but only to the Church's Constitution.

The Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith, Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, should be brought before the Board before they take up the case of Bishop Lawrence. In the proud and autonomous tradition of his parent Diocese of Virginia, which (like South Carolina) was one of the founding Dioceses of the Church, the Constitution of Bishop Hollerith's Diocese contains no accession clause of any kind whatsoever -- either to ECUSA's Constitution or to its Canons.

The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, Bishop of Massachusetts, interpreted Resolution C056 ("Liturgies for Blessings") adopted by General Convention in 2009 to allow him to authorize clergy in his Diocese to perform same-sex marriages, and indeed performed such a ceremony himself. These acts violated not just the Canons on Marriage, but also the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. According to Bishop Shaw, he and his suffragan bishops are the final authority on what the Canons mean in their Diocese. So why is not Bishop Lawrence just as final an authority on the meaning of the Canons in his Diocese, as well?

Indeed, Bishop Shaw's very words to his own Diocese now ring spectacularly hollow, as applied to Bishop Lawrence (emphasis added):
Your bishops understand this to mean for us here in the Diocese of Massachusetts that the clergy of this diocese may, at their discretion, solemnize marriages for all eligible couples, beginning Advent I. . . .

We have not arrived at this place in our common life easily or quickly. We have not done it alone. This decision comes after a long process of listening, prayer and discernment leading up to and continuing after General Convention’s action this past summer. Our Diocesan Convention recently adopted a resolution of its own expressing its collective hope for the very determination that your bishops have made. Even so, we know that not all are of one mind and that some in good faith will disagree with this decision. Our Anglican tradition makes space for this disagreement and calls us to respect and engage one another in our differences. It is through that tension that we find God’s ultimate will.
All of the other Bishops on the Disciplinary Review Board are just as disqualified as the above three individual Bishops. The reason for their disqualification is that the vote to enact the new Title IV Canons passed the House of Bishops at Anaheim in 2009 (see page 227 of the previous link) without any recorded votes of dissent by any of the bishops currently on the Board. Unless they can show that they opposed the new Title IV, or at the minimum abstained from its adoption, they are hopelessly prejudiced against the stand now being taken by Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese. The latter claim in unison that the adoption of Title IV was not in accord with ECUSA's Constitution; but the former demonstrated by their votes at GC 2009 that they already disagreed with him -- even before the charges against him were brought to their attention.

In fact, this entire procedure under the "Abandonment Canon" points up just what is the abuse of that Canon by ECUSA's current leadership -- including, it must now be said, Bishop Dorsey Henderson. We have the case of a Bishop of an Episcopal Diocese who rejects the addition of new Canons for the Church, on the ground of their unconstitutionality. But if that very fact of opposition, for constitutional reasons, can be allowed to constitute grounds for deposition due to "abandonment" of the Church, then what is to become of any good-faith opposition to the passage of Church canons? If the Church now makes any such opposition deposable, then the only bishops who will remain with it will be the spineless toadies who never object to its canonical excesses under a leadership bent on arrogating ever more power to itself.

And what of the lay and clergy members of the Disciplinary Board? These, it must be remembered, were all appointed by House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, just as all of the Bishop members were appointed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. (Such are the truly "democratic" processes of the Episcopal Church (USA).) Exactly as in the case of the Bishop members, those whom Ms. Anderson appointed, such as the Rev. Canon Angela Shepherd, and who served as Deputies to the General Convention in 2009, need to step down if they voted for the new Title IV. (Canon Shepherd was in the deputation from Maryland, which was chaired by the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, soon to be elected suffragan bishop of Los Angeles.)

Member Christopher Hayes is disqualified as well. He serves as the Chancellor for the Diocese of California, which under his guidance and support recently enacted its own disciplinary canons (see Canon XV) to give effect in that Diocese to the new Title IV. How can he judge someone from a diocese which refused to do the very thing he advised his Diocese to do? Other Board members who served as deputies to their own Diocese's annual convention, such as Ms. Josephine Powell, and the Rev. Canon J├ęsus Reyes, are disqualified if they recently voted to amend their diocesan Canons to bring them into conformity with the new Title IV.

The Rev. Marjorie Menaul, the rector of St. Paul's in Bloomsburg, and a member of the Board from Central Pennsylvania, should be very careful of how she proceeds in this matter, along with Bishop Catherine Waynick of the Diocese of Indianapolis. The two of them served on the Court for the Trial of a Bishop in the case which resulted in a sentence of deposition (subsequently overturned on appeal) for the Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison, Jr. In the course of that proceeding, the Court requested that the Diocese of Los Angeles supply it with copies of letters in its files and stemming from the time that Bishop Bennison served as a priest at a parish in Upland there, working with his brother, a (now) confessed child molester. In its final order, the Court wrote this about its requests to the Diocese (pp. 14-15 of the Order, with emphases added):
Additionally, the Respondent argues that the Sentence should be modified because the Diocese of Los Angeles refused to produce its files regarding John Bennison. The parties, a representative of the Presiding Bishop, and the Court each asked the Diocese to produce those records. Unfortunately, the Diocese refused all of those requests and the Court had no ability to obtain those documents. . . . In this case, however, no party to this action refused to produce the documents in question. Rather, the Diocese of Los Angeles, a wholly autonomous entity which is not a party to these proceedings, chose not to produce the documents notwithstanding entreaties from the Court.
Thus, Bishop Waynick and the Rev. Menaul both acknowledged in their order that the Diocese of Los Angeles was "autonomous", and neither the Court for the Trial of a Bishop, nor the Presiding Bishop herself, could order it to produce its records. No presentment was ever brought against Bishop J. Jon Bruno for refusing to comply in that matter -- but these Board members are considering whether a similar refusal to comply here would constitute "abandonment" on the part of Bishop Lawrence? Having already ruled that way in the Bennison case, why have these two members not insisted that the Board has to drop all further consideration of the charges against the Bishop of a similarly autonomous Diocese, for acting autonomously?

Under the provisions of the current Title IV, it will be the duty of the Board's newly appointed Church Attorney, Mr. Jack W. "J.B." Burtch, Jr. to challenge all the members of the Board who are disqualified because their "impartiality may reasonably be questioned" (Canon IV.19.14[b], discussed and quoted in the updates to this previous post). However, the drafters of the new Title IV do not appear to have envisioned such a massive host of conflicts which would disqualify nearly every member of the Board under that standard. Why do I say that? Take a look at paragraph (c) of Canon IV.19.14 just cited, and see how it provides for the handling of any charges of disqualification which Mr. Burtch may bring against the Board's members:
(c) Any member of any Panel provided for in this Title who has not disqualified himself or herself as provided in this section may be subject to challenge by the Church Attorney . . . . The challenge shall be investigated by the remaining members of the Panel who shall determine whether the challenged member of the Panel should be disqualified and replaced according to the procedures of this Title for filling vacancies.
Let us see now . . . In this post and the one previous to it on this topic, I have set forth the basis for why it would not be reasonable to think that seventeen of the Board's eighteen sitting members could act impartially in the matter of Bishop Lawrence. Who is left to judge the rest? It may all come down to the member from Puerto Rico, Mr. Victor Feliberty-Ruberte. But wait! I just remembered that the Diocese of Puerto Rico does not have an accession clause in its Constitution, either! So, sorry, Mr. Feliberty-Ruberte: unless you can explain why your Diocese can get away with it while you believe that South Carolina should not, then you, too, could not reasonably be expected to be impartial in this matter.

As I said earlier: the entire kangaroo court should resign en masse -- and Bishop Jefferts Schori and President Bonnie Anderson, because of their continued behind-the-scenes involvement via the Executive Council which they head, should disqualify themselves from naming the people who can sit impartially in judgment on this matter. In sum: there is no one currently involved with the governance of the Episcopal Church (USA) who is impartial enough to judge Bishop Lawrence, or to appoint his judges. All charges should be dismissed without further delay. The longer this kangaroo court drags things out, the more apparent will it be that its procedures have been rigged from the outset.












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