The push by the provisional bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy to censure nine bishops for disloyalty to the Episcopal Church has failed in the House of Bishops and has likely sunk any attempt to discipline the accused through the church’s legal system.
After two and a half hours of discussion over three private sessions at the 77th General Convention meeting in Indianapolis, on 8 July 2012 the House of Bishops responded to claims of misconduct leveled against the nine by the provisional bishops of Quincy and Fort Worth. The House of Bishops responded with a “Mind of the House” resolution proposed by one of the accused, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield, affirming the loyalty of Episcopalians in the dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin and Pittsburgh.
The House of Bishops had “no stomach” to discipline Bishop Martins, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, retired Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired Bishop of Texas, the Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, the retired Bishop of Springfield, 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. Edward L. Salmon, retired Bishop of South Carolina and Dean of Nashotah House, and the Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, a participant in the 6-8 July meetings told Anglican Ink.
The “Mind of the House” resolution does not end the Title IV investigations into misconduct made against the nine, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the bishops. However, by seeking an immediate resolution to the dispute the Title IV process has effectively been shut down as those bishops present in the discussions who serve on the disciplinary board will have to recuse themselves from adjudicating the case. All of the episcopal judges that will hear the case are now disqualified from participation in a decision on grounds of personal involvement.
On 5 July the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, Jr., Provisional Bishop of Fort Worth, and the Rt. Rev. John C. Buchanan, Provisional Bishop of Quincy wrote to the presiding bishop asking the House of Bishops to “set the record straight regarding recent statements by certain bishops in our Church.”
They accused the seven of the nine for misconduct and disloyalty to the Episcopal Church for having filed a friend of the court brief in the lawsuit currently before the Texas Supreme Court between the breakaway Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and the Episcopal Church. The brief disputed the national church’s claim that the Episcopal Church was a unitary ecclesial structure, with the dioceses subordinate and creatures of the General Convention. Their brief did not, however, support the secession of Bishop Jack Iker and the Diocese of Forth Worth. Three of the nine were also accused of misconduct for having signed an affidavit in the Diocese of Quincy case affirming their view on the polity of the Episcopal Church.
In their letter of complaint, which drew upon the same issues and was directed against the same nine bishops as the Title IV disciplinary proceedings launched last month, Bishops Ohl and Buchanan leveled four charges against the nine. They had “falsely claimed” that “dioceses can unilaterally leave” the Episcopal Church. They “denied the Dennis Canon and failed to safeguard Church property”; the “recognize the wrong bishops” thereby injecting “chaos into core ecclesiastical functions” of the Episcopal Church; and they “violated the ecclesiastical jurisdictions” of Fort Worth and Quincy by having endorsed legal documents pertaining to questions outside their dioceses.
The charges drew sharp criticism from outside the House. 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 friend of the court brief in Fort Worth dismissed the charges as unfounded. “This is a lot of grasping at straws,” he said.
After the Ohl/Buchanan letter was made public, one bishop told AI that he believed the letter was “ill-timed” and was an “end-run” around the Title IV canons. By pressing their claims simultaneously in two venues -- the House of Bishops and the Title IV board – the bishops had effectively “shot their bolt” with the letter. Misspelling the Presiding Bishop’s name – a sensitive point for Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori – was also “unfortunate.”
In their public response released after the first closed session that reviewed the charges, the nine protested their loyalty to the church but acknowledged their actions had been “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.”
The charges brought by Bishops Ohl and Buchanan were untrue. The bishops said they had never defended the actions of Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Forth Worth, nor had addressed the question of diocesan secession. Nor had they discussed the Dennis Canon or challenged the church’s right to “recognize its own bishops.” And the fourth charge, that by exercising their civic duties they had violated their ecclesiastical responsibilities, was false. “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.”
Details of the three discussion sessions have not been made public, and those bishops contacted by AI have been unwilling to break the rules of the House by giving details of the deliberations.
However, through speaking with several participants in the meetings the general outlines of the proceedings have become clear. Both sides to the dispute were able to present their concerns and responses to the House in a full and frank exchange of views.
The partisan wrangling and personal animus that had made past gatherings “poisonous” appeared to be absent this time. Past scenes of applause following a personal attack on the integrity of a bishop by another bishop – Bishop Gene Robinson’s characterization of Bishop Robert Duncan as being untruthful was cited by one bishop – were absent from this proceeding.
Nor was the adoption of the Mind of the House resolution a “quid pro quo,” as there had been no negotiations. The bishops’ “hearts were just not in it” – it being the sanctioning of nine of their members – AI was told. By the end of the third session it was clear that the push to punish the nine “had no legs” one bishop said.
Writing in his blog on 8 July Bishop Dan Martins said: “I personally moved a mind-of-the-house resolution that affirms Bishops Ohl, Talton, Price, and Buchanan as the legitimate bishops of the Episcopal Church dioceses of Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Quincy, respectively. This motion carried on a unanimous roll call vote. And it is in no way inconsistent with the amicus curiae brief that seven of us recently signed. My sense is that this has significantly lowered the thermostat in relations between the bishops. What effect it might have on the Title IV complaints remains to be seen. But I am hopeful.”
Speaking to Episcopal Café after the third session, Bishop Buchanan said: "Bishop Ohl and I triggered this resolution by writing our letter. The House of Bishops spent nearly two and a half hours discussing this matter in productive and collegial conversation that worked toward reconciliation. The matter will continue to be discussed at future meetings of the House of Bishops.”
"I am most grateful for the resolution that identifies me as the bishop of the Diocese of Quincy."
However, Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago told an 8 July press conference the Mind of the House resolution was “virtually” identical to a resolution adopted in 2009, and "said nothing new" one of the nine explained.
While the conversations will continue, the push to punish within the House of Bishops has effectively ended. And by seeking a resolution of the dispute at this General Convention before the House of Bishops, Bishops Ohl and Buchanan have effectively ended the Title IV process.
With the church’s intake officer assigned to review the charges, the members of the review panel (that will first see the charges), the disciplinary board (that will try the charges), the appeals board (that will review the findings), and a key witness for the prosecution -- the presiding bishops’ chancellor, David Booth Beers -- all present at the closed meeting, the impartiality of any future proceedings has been compromised, one of the nine observed.