A gathering of national church loyalists has learned that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is backing their move to claim the mantle of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
The presiding bishop's attorney told the 15 Nov 2012 meeting of TEC loyalists the national church had been preparing for the fight with Bishop Lawrence and the majority faction in the diocese for some time. However assertions made at the meeting that the former Bishop of East Tennessee will be intervening on behalf of the presiding bishop supplant Bishop Mark Lawrence were unfounded.
The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg told Anglican Inkhis officiating at public worship as a priest in the jurisdiction of the Diocese of South Carolina was permitted under a license he held by Bishop Mark Lawrence, while his actions as a bishop were of a pastoral nature. The retired bishop said the had been given “no special or particular authority” to exercise episcopal office in South Carolina.
Questions over the presiding bishop’s actions have arisen in light of statements made by Mr. Tom Tisdale, a lawyer Bishop Jefferts Schori given at a 15 Nov 2012 “clergy day” held at St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Charleston. An open letter to the bishops of the Episcopal Church detailing her alleged violations of the canons prepared by the Anglican Communion Institute has also prompted questions.
The presiding bishop’s office has not responded to queries concerning the ACI’s open letter, nor is it known if Bishop Jefferts Schori has complied with Canon Iv.4(f), which requires her to self-report to “the Intake Officer all matters which may constitute an Offense as defined” in the canons.
Mr. Tisdale told Anglican Ink he too was unable to comment. My “inability to answer your questions is that I have consistently held to a long standing practice and policy of not engaging in press interviews on matters in which I am representing a client. The only exception to this practice would be when I am specifically requested to do so by the client.”
In his address to the approximately 40 clergy and lay members of the diocese present, Mr. Tisdale stated that in light of the suspension of Bishop Lawrence on 15 Oct 2012 by the presiding bishop and the vote by the standing committee to withdraw from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, there was no functioning ecclesiastical authority in South Carolina.
He stated he was legal counsel for the presiding bishop in South Carolina and a “few months ago” had been asked to organize a transition group by the national church in preparation for such an event.
The transition group, he told those present was composed of 10 lay members: Hillery P. Douglas, Chairman; Erin E. Bailey, Holly H. Behre, William P. Baldwin, Charles C. Geer, Lonnie Hamilton, III, Margaret S. Kwist, Rebecca S. Lovelace, John O. Sands and Virginia C. Wilder; and four clergy: the Rev. James E. Taylor, the Rev. Richard C. Lindsey, the Rev. Wilmot T. Merchant, II and the Rev. Calhoun Walpole.
The transition group would be assisted by a steering committee included the presiding bishop’s lawyer Mr. Tisdale, attorney Melinda Lucka, the Rev. Michael Wright and two episcopal advisors: Bishop vonRosenberg and Bishop John C. Buchanan.
According to those present at the meeting, this steering committee would work under the auspices of the presiding bishop with the transition group and will inform her what actions she should take to reorganize the diocese.
On 8 March 2012 the transition group will elect officers at a diocesan convention where a new standing committee and new bishop will be elected and the canons of the diocese changed to restore its relationship to the national church. Mr. Tisdale defended the use of the diocese’ name and seal by the transition group saying “we are the diocese” of South Carolina.
In a question and answer session following his presentation, Mr. Tisdale was asked by the five rectors and retired clergy present questions as to how to proceed until March. To whom should they apply for permission to conduct marriages for divorcees?, one cleric asked.
Mr. Tisdale responded Bishop vonRosenberg was responsible and he would also take charge of the licensing of clergy until the March 2013 convention when a provisional bishop be appointed. A provisional bishop could not be appointed immediately, Mr. Tisdale said, as the presiding bishop could not act until the House of Bishops deposed Bishop Lawrence at their March meeting.
Asked if faithful Episcopalians should stay in their parishes, Mr. Tisdale said no, because those parishes that had affirmed secession at the diocese’s special convention on 17 Nov 2012 were “no longer Episcopal.”
Mr. Tisdale’s claim that Bishop von Rosenberg may exercise Episcopal office in place of Bishop Lawrence, would appear to violate national church canons III.12.3(e) which states: “No Bishop shall perform episcopal acts or officiate by preaching, ministering the Sacraments, or holding any public service in a Diocese other than that in which the Bishop is canonically resident, without permission or a license to perform occasional public services from the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Bishop desires to officiate or perform episcopal acts.”
While licensed to act as a priest in the diocese, Bishop vonRosenberg has not been licensed to act as a bishop, a spokesman for the Diocese of South Carolina told Anglican Ink.
Diocesan canons also forbid Bishop vonRosenberg from assuming episcopal authority without the sanction of the lawful ecclesiastical authority.
South Carolina Canon XXXIV states: “No priest who is not canonically resident in this Diocese shall perform any function of his office in this Diocese without first having obtained permission to do so from the Bishop of the Diocese”; while Canon XXXVII states the “Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese is the Bishop. If there is no Bishop, the Standing Committee is the Ecclesiastical Authority. The Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese, with the advice and counsel of the Chancellor is the sole and final authority with respect to any dispute concerning the interpretation of the Constitution and Canons of this Diocese and its interpretations shall be final and binding in all respects.”
Were Bishop vonRosenberg to exercise episcopal authority in South Carolina as envisioned by Mr. Tisdale, one canon lawyer told Anglican Ink, he would be liable for presentment on the same grounds as raised against Bishop William Cox. Bishop Cox was deposed in 2008 for exercising episcopal authority within the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Kansas on behalf of the Archbishop of Uganda, adding “if Bishop vonRosenberg licensed clergy for South Carolina without having the explicit authority to do so, he would be in violation of the national and local canons.”
However, Bishop vonRosenberg said an improper interpretation was being placed on Mr. Tisdale’s words
“During the question and answer session on November 15, there were several matters referred to me, as the only bishop in the room. I indicated repeatedly that I would seek answers from elsewhere, since I had, have, no special authority in South Carolina. After the meeting, I did inquire of the Presiding Bishop about those matters,” he said.
“Licenses for laity and clergy are to remain in force until a provisional bishop is elected. There is no provision for anyone issuing a new license during this time,” Bishop von Rosenberg said.
“Also during this time, rectors and vicars of churches are able to seek counsel and advice from TEC bishops in good standing. Included would be such matters as permission for remarriages in the church.”
“In terms of any authority I have or have been given, that applies only in that I am a bishop of the church. Thus, no special or particular authority has been given to me at all,” the bishop explained.