Albany Bishop and Standing Committee letter to HOB: Do Not Depose Duncan
Distributed to the HOB Thursday, September 18, 2008
September 16, 2008
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Dear Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and Members of the House of Bishops,
The Standing Committee and Bishop of the Diocese of Albany express our grave concern and hereby formally protest the planned deposition proceedings directed against Bishop Robert W. Duncan, called for by the Presiding Bishop in her Memorandum to the House of Bishops, dated September 12, 2008. We urge you in the strongest terms possible, not to proceed in this matter for the following reasons:
1) From a procedural and fairness standpoint, while it had been widely speculated that deposition proceedings would be brought against Bishop Duncan at the September HOB Meeting, the Presiding Bishop’s Memorandum to the House of Bishops, dated September 12, 2008, was the first official notification that such proceedings would in fact occur. There was no mention of deposition proceedings referenced in the draft agenda for the September HOB Meeting sent out on August 20, 2008. In the text of the agenda, it is stated that, “The main purpose of this meeting will be to reflect and deliberate together following the Lambeth Conference.” We believe that in a matter of such importance as the deposition of a bishop, every member of the House of Bishops should be notified well in advance of such actions, in order that every effort can be made by them to attend the proceedings. In accordance with the General Rules for Meetings in this House, Rule XIX on page 193 in the Rules of Order, House of Bishops, in order for any resolution to come before the House of Bishops at a special meeting the resolution must have been circulated 30 days in advance to all of the members, unless there is a two-thirds vote to allow the resolution. Should not the deposition of a bishop have, at a minimum, that same level of notification?
2) As acknowledged by the Presiding Bishop herself in the September 12th Memorandum, there have been significant differences of opinion expressed in regard to the interpretation of Canon IV.9 and the criteria that must be met as outlined in the canon. Specifically there is much debate centered around two major areas of concern: A) The required number of bishops needed to consent to the deposition of a bishop (whether it be a majority of all bishops in the House of Bishops eligible to vote or simply a majority of those present at the HOB meeting
in which the deposition proceedings occur); and B) Whether or not the inhibition of a bishop is a prerequisite to deposition. As you are well aware, the depositions of Bishop Schofield and Bishop Cox on March 12, 2008, were followed by an outcry by many within the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Communion. At question was the legality of the actions taken by the House of Bishops, particularly in regard to whether all the criteria outlined in Canon IV.9 were properly met and adhered to. While Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and her Chancellor David Booth Beers have both expressed their belief that they have properly interpreted the canons in regard to these matters, in a letter to the Presiding Bishop, dated March 27, 2008, the Standing Committee and Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, made a strong, well reasoned argument for an interpretation of Canon IV.9 which differs greatly from that held by the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor. The Dioceses of Central Florida, Northern Indiana, Springfield and Western Louisiana, in statements published by their Standing Committees and or/Bishops in recent months, have raised similar concerns and interpretations of Canon IV.9 as those expressed by South Carolina. Due to these widely differing views and interpretations of Canon IV.9 and the extreme damage that can occur if misinterpreted, we call upon the House of Bishops to refrain from acting on this canon, until the House of Bishops is able to receive a legal interpretation of Canon IV.9 from a panel, consisting of a minimum of five canon lawyers/experts who are not involved in the proceedings against Bishop Duncan or any of the on going legal proceedings dealing with property disputes or parishes or dioceses leaving The Episcopal Church. While we appreciate the Presiding Bishop, her Chancellor and Bishop Stacy Sauls’ attempts to provide clarity in interpreting Canon IV.9, due to their current high level of involvement in legal proceedings throughout TEC that could be influenced by the outcome of the interpretation of Canon IV.9, we believe it is important to get an unbiased, outside interpretation of the canon, to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest.
3) In defense or justification of the Presiding Bishop’s interpretation of Canon IV.9 in the depositions of Bishop Schofield, Bishop Cox and the pending deposition proceedings against Bishop Duncan, the depositions of Bishop Davies, the resigned bishop of Fort Worth in 1993, and Bishop Larrea, the Bishop of Ecuador Central in 2004 are cited as precedent, therefore paving the way for future depositions. The fact that no one apparently challenged the 1993 and 2004 depositions does not necessarily mean that the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor have interpreted the canons correctly. If precedent is going to be used as justification for future actions, it is imperative that the canons are being properly interpreted and applied and that the process is agreed upon by the House of Bishops before action is taken. Again, the recent outcry by many over the believed failure to follow and apply the Canons properly in the depositions of Bishop Schofield and Bishop Cox, have only added to the growing division within TEC and the Anglican Communion.
4) In a letter to the Bishops of the Episcopal Church, dated August 24, 2008, Bishop Duncan stated, “The proper forum to determine whether I have violated constitution or canons would be a church trial, as I am a Bishop of this Church. But such a trial would have required due process and all the protections of the trial canons. The Course chosen…was an expedient course, requiring none of the justice, none of the expense, none of the rights of the accused, none of the lengthy timetable.” We concur with Bishop Duncan’s assessment that the proper forum to determine his guilt or innocence in regard to the charges that have been brought against him would be a church or ecclesiastical trial. The deposition of a bishop is an extremely serious matter as you well know. It is equivalent to the death penalty in regard to one’s ordained ministry. This is NO time to seek the most “expedient course” in determining one’s guilt or innocence. Bishop Duncan has dedicated his life to serving our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. While we question the charges brought against him, if he is to be charged, it should be dealt with in an ecclesiastical trial with all the protections guaranteed in the trial canons. Anything less is doing Bishop Duncan and the Church a great injustice.
5) In their attempts to explain their interpretations of Canon IV.9, The Presiding Bishop, her Chancellor and Bishop Sauls make numerous references to the “intent” of a canon. In her September 12th Memorandum, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori stated, “…the General Convention in enacting this canon did not intend to give the three senior bishops a “veto” over the House’s right to determine whether or not a bishop who has been certified by the Review Committee as having abandoned the Communion of this Church should be deposed. Rather, that decision was intended to be made by the House.” First we would argue that is purely a judgment call on the part of the Presiding Bishop and her advisors. Others could well argue that the canonical stipulation that the majority vote of the three senior bishops was inserted to provide another level of discernment and to protect the House from having to deal with frivolous accusations. Second, after studying the history of Canon IV.9, a strong argument could be made that this canon was never intended to be used in the manner in which it was applied in the depositions of Bishop Schofield, Bishop Cox and the pending deposition proceedings against Bishop Duncan. It would seem that the intent of the canon is to deal with those bishops who not only leave the Episcopal Church, but also the Anglican Communion. That is clearly not the case with the three bishops just mentioned. While Bishop Schofield and Bishop Cox may have left TEC and in the case of Bishop Duncan it would appear he has plans to leave TEC, none of the three bishops have abandoned the Anglican Communion, but simply realigned with another province within the Anglican Communion. Because TEC is part of the Anglican Communion, it would seem that a charge of abandonment of Communion has no merit.
Despite the attempts of some to downplay the seriousness of the current situation in which tens of thousands of once loyal Episcopalians are leaving TEC, with no end in sight, the Episcopal Church is in a state of chaos. It is our belief that unless the current downward spiral is reversed, current and future charges of abandonment of communion will be a moot point. Within the not-too-distant future, if things continue as they currently are, there won’t be a communion to abandon. If the current on-going depositions of bishops and priests are intended to stop the mass exodus out of TEC, it isn’t working, but rather having the opposite effect. More and more clergy and laity are reaching the point that they can no longer accept or tolerate the recent theological innovations that have become so pervasive throughout much of The Episcopal Church’s leadership. The current attacks directed against the theologically conservative orthodox Christians within TEC are not scaring or intimidating them, but rather angering and emboldening them. With each new attack, more fuel is thrown on the fire. The depositions and lawsuits must stop. What type of example are we setting for our children and the rest of the world? What are we saying about how Episcopalians treat one another? Jesus commands us to love our enemy; to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; to love one another as He loves us. Clearly many in the Episcopal Church have not heard or listened to His command, when it comes to the way we relate to one another within TEC and the wider Anglican Communion.
The Standing Committee and Bishop of Albany call upon the House of Bishops, the House of Deputies and all involved in the current theological war to call a truce, enabling The Episcopal Church to refocus our time, energy and resources on the difficult but necessary process of figuring out how Christians who passionately hold what appear to be irreconcilable differences in the understanding and interpretation of Holy Scripture and its authority on our lives as well as issues of human sexuality, can move forward in building up the Kingdom of God by sharing the love and Good News of Jesus Christ with all who will receive it. For far too long we have been consumed by politically-charged agendas to the detriment of the Church and the building up of the Kingdom of God. May God give us the grace, the wisdom, the compassion, the humility we need to discern His will, moving forward in His Name to His honor and glory and to the benefit of His Church and people.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Reverend Lorraine M. Lyons
President, Standing Committee of the Diocese of Albany
The Right Reverend William H. Love
Bishop, Diocese of Albany