Seven bishops have written an open letter to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops repudiating charges of disloyalty brought against them by the provisional bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy.
On 6 July 2012, seven of the nine bishops accused of misconduct by Bishops C. Wallis Ohl Jr., and James C. Buchanan stated there was no truth in the accusations leveled against them.
The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, retired Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev. Paul E. Lambert, suffragan Bishop of Dallas, the Rt. Rev. William H. Love, Bishop of Albany, the Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Western Louisiana, the Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins, Bishop of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, retired Bishop of South Carolina and Dean of Nashotah House, and the Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas stated they had been forced to act in order to protect the Episcopal Church – not to harm it.
“No charge is more serious to us than the one that we have acted against our own Church—in other words, that we have been disloyal. We assure each of you that we have acted out of a profound loyalty to this Church we love,” they wrote.
The bishops acknowledged that their decision to file an amicus brief in Texas and affidavits in Illinois would be “controversial. We took these actions, however, precisely because we thought it our duty to do so in order to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church as we all have pledged to do.”
While anonymous charges of misconduct and a public letter from two bishops calling for their censure would not have been the way they would have hoped to air the issues under debate, they welcomed the opportunity to correct publically the distortions and charges laid against them.
The ends did not justify the means being used by the Episcopal Church in its legal campaign against departing dioceses, they wrote. “Our primary concern is that the polity that has defined this Church for two centuries is being transformed due to momentary legal objectives in the secular courts. We do not question these objectives. We only believe that the constitutional polity of the Church—the discipline we pledge to uphold—should not be sacrificed in pursuit of these goals.”
In their letter the bishops briefly summarized the traditional polity of the Episcopal Church and urged their colleagues to read their 2009 paper which addressed the historical, legal and canonical issues in dispute.
Furthermore they objected to the charges brought by the two bishops to the House of Bishops as being untrue.
As to the first charge made by Bishops Ohl and Buchanan that they had said “dioceses can unilaterally leave” the Episcopal Church, the bishops responded the two bishops appeared to have misunderstood what they wrote in their brief.
On the first page of their amicus brief in the Fort Worth case, the bishops had stated “the amici oppose the decision by the Appellants (“Diocese of Fort Worth”) to leave The Episcopal Church, but in its ruling against them the court has misunderstood, and thereby damaged, the constitutional structure of The Episcopal Church.”
The bishops’ brief did not defend the actions of Bishop Jack Iker and the Diocese of Fort Worth or address the question whether withdrawal is permitted under the Constitution of the Episcopal Church. “Our legal submissions are concerned only with the nature of authority in our Church; we do not address the exercise of that authority by Bishop Iker or any other bishop.”
Nor was the second charge true, that they “deny the Dennis Canon. In fact, we do not address property issues at all,” they wrote, adding the Dennis Canon and property trusts are “not even mentioned in our amicus brief.”
The charge that they rejected the national church’s authority to “recognize its own bishops” was untrue as well. “In fact, we explicitly state in the amicus brief that ‘The Episcopal Church clearly has the constitutional right to select a new bishop.’ We recognize Bishops Ohl and Buchanan as the bishops of the TEC-recognized dioceses.”
The fourth charge was absurd, the bishops said. “Strangest of all is the claim that we have violated episcopal jurisdiction.”
The seven bishops had exercised their civic duties only and had performed no ecclesiastical acts in Quincy or Fort Worth. “To our knowledge, no one has ever before suggested that petitioning the legislatures or courts in Washington or state capitols—our brief was filed in Austin, not Fort Worth—requires the consent of the local bishop.”
The seven apologized to their colleagues for any offense they may have given by their actions, but stated that they had been compelled to act by the dictates of conscience. “We are convinced that the venerable polity of our Church is under threat due to the temporary exigencies of secular litigation. However much we may understand and sympathize with these objectives, we consider it our greater duty to uphold our constitutional polity.”
Two bishops who had also been named in the Ohl/Buchanan charge sheet, the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired Bishop of Texas, and the Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, retired of Springfield are not attending the 77th General Convention and were not available to sign the letter in the brief period of time given the bishops to respond to the accusations.
The House of Bishops is scheduled to discuss the letter during its private session of 7 July 2012. While the bishops have no canonical authority under Title IV to discipline juridically the bishops if they are persuaded of the merits of the Ohl/Buchanan letter, they may expel, censure or otherwise sanction the bishops for this gathering of the House of Bishops. Should the House of Bishops adopt a statement on the polity of the Episcpal Church, it too has no long-term significance other than as the views of its signatories.
Critical responses to what one bishop told Anglican Ink was an “end run” around the canons, have been one-sided – and sharp.
Canon lawyer Allan Haley – an attorney for the Diocese of San Joaquin – stated that the Ohl/Buchanan letter was “despicable” and “completely unworthy of the calling of a bishop. It is filled with lies and untruths.”
ACI leader Professor Christopher Seitz, who also signed the Fort Worth amicus brief, was equally vexed by the falsehoods in the Ohl/Buchanan letter. “This is a lot of grasping at straws,” he said.
“It is emotional and incoherent. The Bishops who filed the amicus were not unhappy and they were not stating personal views. They were professionals speaking professionally. That may now be a crime of its own,” he said.