Presiding Bishop backs ecclesiastical coup in South Carolina

 

Presiding Bishop backs ecclesiastical coup in South Carolina

Author: 

George Conger

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has declared the ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese of South Carolina vacant and has backed a faction within the diocese that is seeking to fill the “vacuum” created by the suspension of Bishop Mark Lawrence.

The loyalist “Transitional Committee” has also declared the South Carolina Standing Committee to be vacant and has formed a “steering committee” to act in its place. 

On 11 Nov 2012, the steering committee announced that it had taken charge of the diocese. “We write to assure you that The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina is continuing,” they said, noting they had formed a “steering committee of faithful Episcopalians” to “reorganize our continuing Diocese over the next few months. This committee will serve as the broad-based group in the Diocese that communicates with the Presiding Bishop during this period when the Diocese has no functioning ecclesiastical authority.”

The loyalist faction, writing in the name of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and acting under its seal, said at the diocesan convention scheduled for 8 March 2013 they would “begin the work of selecting a bishop, a new standing committee, and forging ahead with our missions and ministry.”

The names affixed to the document for the group claiming to exercise the legal authority of the diocese, a South Carolina corporation, were:

Hillery P. Douglas, Charleston, Chairman; Erin E. Bailey, Mount Pleasant, Secretary; The Rev. James E. Taylor, North Charleston, Treasurer; Holly H. Behre, Charleston; William P. Baldwin, McClellanville; Charles C. Geer, MD, Charleston; Lonnie Hamilton, III, Charleston; Margaret S. Kwist, Summerville; The Rev. Richard C. Lindsey, Hilton Head/Beaufort County; Rebecca S. Lovelace, Conway; The Rev. Wilmot T. Merchant, II, North Myrtle Beach; John O. Sands, Pawleys Island; The Rev. Calhoun Walpole, Charleston; and Virginia C. Wilder, Summerville.

Two retired bishops living within the jurisdiction of the diocese, The Rt. Rev. John Buchanan and the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg were listed as the group’s “Episcopal Advisors”.

The congregations believed to be affiliated with this group include: Grace, St. Stephen's, Calvary, St. Mark's, Holy Communion in Charleston; St. Thomas North Charleston; St. George's and Epiphany Summerville; Christ Church Denmark; All Saints Hilton Head; St. Stephen's North Myrtle Beach; and Holy Cross Faith Memorial Pawleys Island.

On 3 Nov, an advertisement affixed with the diocesan seal was placed in two newspapers, the Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet, by the clergy and vestry of All Saints Church, Hilton Head and St Mark’s Chapel, Port Royal stating that the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” “will continue” as part of the Episcopal Church with “new leadership and a new Bishop.”

On 7 Nov the same group, claiming now to be the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina wrote to the clergy of the diocese inviting them to attend a “clergy day” with Bishop vonRosenberg as preacher at which they would receive a report from “the Steering Committee.”

After the rector of the parish where the meeting was scheduled to be held objected, saying he had been misled by the steering committee, the meeting was moved to a second church in Charleston.

A spokesman for the presiding bishop’s office told the Charleston Post & Courier that Bishop Lawrence had been suspended and the standing committee removed from office by the Presiding Bishop.

However, in a paper released on 11 Nov, the Anglican Communion Institute noted the actions taken by the presiding bishop and the loyalist group violated civil and canonical law.  The Episcopal Church has “no canonical basis for the actions that the Presiding Bishop and pro-TEC local parishes appear to be taking. There is no canonical authority for an ‘Interim Bishop’ to be ‘appointed by the Presiding Bishop’ in an existing diocese. Nor is there any canonical basis for a self-appointed ‘Steering Committee’ to attempt to ‘reorganize’ an existing diocese, to ‘communicate with the Presiding Bishop’ or be advised by other bishops of the church.”

The ACI further stated the “absence of any canons authorizing what the Presiding Bishop and others are doing is proof that TEC is operating under a profoundly flawed understanding of the church’s polity.”

It argued the presiding bishop’s actions and arguments were contradictory. It Bishop Jefferts Schori was correct in her view that a diocese cannot withdraw from the Episcopal Church, “the actions aimed at replacing Bishop Lawrence and the diocesan leadership before a resolution to his disciplinary investigation—and perhaps even before he was even informed of the Board’s certification—is flagrantly in violation of TEC’s canon.”

If the presiding bishop believes South Carolina has left the Episcopal Church “and that South Carolina as a geographical unit is an unorganized area canonically receptive to a new organization. If so, TEC has admitted the very principle it has so expensively contested in other cases and thus subverted previous claims and financial interests.”

“The Presiding Bishop owes the church an explanation and justification for which one of these alternatives represents her position and why in either case such a position has any credibility,” the ACI observed.

Erratum and update: This article has been updated since publication to note the Diocese of South Carolina had scheduled the March 2013 convention, but the transition committee now claims the authority to hold the meeting.

For a legal analysis of this issue, please see the article by Allan Haley at the Anglican Curmudgeon.

Open Letter to Episcopalians Nov 2012