Panel of Reference report on the Fort Worth 7 finds misconduct

 

Panel of Reference report on the Fort Worth 7 finds misconduct

Author: 

George Conger

A Reference Panel has found that a prima facie case of misconduct can be made against nine serving and retired bishops of the Episcopal Church for having endorsed an amicus brief presented to the Texas Supreme Court, or for having given testimony in a trial court proceeding involving the Diocese of Quincy. 
The Rt Rev. Peter H. Beckwith, the Rt Rev Maurice M. Benitez, the Rt Rev John W. Howe, the Rt Rev Paul E. Lambert, the Rt Rev William H. Love, the Rt Rev D. Bruce MacPherson, the Rt Rev Daniel H. Martins, the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr, and the Rt Rev James M. Stanton have been informed the Reference Panel had reviewed the charges brought against them by the provisional bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy and by lay and clergy accusers.
In an 19 Oct 2012 email Bishop Matthews wrote:
“The Reference Panel unanimously decided according to IV. 6.sec.8 that the complaint will proceed with option (c), Conciliation pursuant to Canon IV.10.” 
Under the Title IV disciplinary canons, if the intake officer finds that if a prima facie case can be made against the accused – if the charges if proven true would constitute an offense – the proceedings are passed on to a Reference Panel for action.
The Panel may then take a number of actions: “(a) no action required other than appropriate pastoral response pursuant to Canon IV.8; (b) conciliation pursuant to Canon IV.10; (c) investigation pursuant to Canon IV.11 or (d) referral for possible agreement with the Bishop Diocesan regarding terms of discipline pursuant to Canon IV.9. Referral decisions shall require the approval of a majority of the Reference Panel.”
A typographical error appears to have been made in Bishop Matthews’ email as he states the panel had proposed option c, an investigation, when he used the language of option b, conciliation.
He added that “after obtaining the agreement of the complainants, we will include in the process some representatives from the House of Bishops, in the spirit of our closed sessions, appointed by The Presiding Bishop.  After some research for potential persons to serve as a Conciliator, I will meet on October 29th with the person, who we hope will serve as the Conciliator. I hope following this meeting, a schedule for proceeding will be forth coming.”
Under the new Title IV disciplinary canons, which were roundly challenged at the 77h General Convention in July as being flawed with over 75 corrections and modifications proposed for its reform, the intake officer must first determine if the offense described in the complaint warrants action. By referring it to the panel, Bishop Matthews has held that having signed a document submitted to a secular court that defends one view of Episcopal Church history and canon law, or in the case of Bishops Beckwith, MacPherson and Salmon, for having testified in the Quincy case, they violated the canons.
Bishop Matthews has “absolutely no business” remaining as intake officer, canon lawyer Allan Haley observed. Bishop Matthews was present at the House of Bishops private conversations on the complaint brought by Bishops C. Wallis Ohl, Jr., and John Buchanan against the nine and it is axiomatic that a judge may not be part of the underlying proceedings.
One of the nine told Anglican Ink he has yet to be told what it was about his actions that violated the canons.  Is it the “issue” or “expressing the issue in court” he said.
If it is the issue, the bishop noted the position set forth in their brief was identical to that put forward in 2009 in the Bishops Statement on Polity.  If it was stating this belief in court, “what is illegitimate about that,” he asked.
Canon law experts note the prosecution of the nine bishops has all the hallmarks of a political trial, as the actions for which they are accused are not considered “triable” when done by other bishops.
Canon IV.19.of Title IV states: “No member of the Church, whether lay or ordained, may seek to have the Constitution and Canons of the Church interpreted by a secular court, or resort to a secular court to address a dispute arising under the Constitution and Canons, or for any purpose of delay, hindrance, review or otherwise affecting any proceeding under this Title.”
If the nine are being charged with violating this canon, the question need be asked why the Bishops of Texas, Southwest Texas, Northwest Texas and the Rio Grande have not been brought up on charges also, one bishop told AI.
In the case of Masterson, et al. v. Diocese of Northwest Texas, No. 11-0332, the Rt Rev. Andrew Doyle, the Rt. Rev. Garry Lillebridge, the Rt. Rev. Michael Vono and the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, Jr., filed an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court that endorsed the three-tier hierarchy concept favored by attorneys for the presiding bishop’s office in the current round of litigation.
One commentator asked “why it is OK for some bishops or dioceses and TEC itself to seek to have the courts interpret the C&Cs, but when others specifically advise the courts that they cannot get embroiled in these issues, it is a canonical offense. “