A letter accusing nine bishops of disloyalty to the Episcopal Church and violation of its canons is scheduled for discussion on 6 July 2012 during a closed session of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops meeting at the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis.
The letter has been described as “end run” around the Title IV canons, one bishop told Anglican Ink, that seeks a political solution to a judicial process.
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.”
Misconduct complaints were filed and investigations under the Title IV disciplinary canons have been initiated against the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired Bishop of Texas, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, retired Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev. Paul Lambert, suffragan Bishop of Dallas, the Rt. Rev. William Love, Bishop of Albany, the Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Western Louisiana, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. James Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, the Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, retired Bishop of Springfield, and the Rt. Rev. Edward L Salmon, retired Bishop of South Carolina and Dean of Nashotah House.
The nine bishops have so far not been informed as to the crimes they have committed or have been told the names of their accusers, but in their 5 July letter Bishops Ohl and Buchanan accused them of harming the church by “officially misrepresenting the polity of the Church; invading the episcopal jurisdiction of other bishops; taking official, formal, affirmative actions directly against their own Church and sister dioceses; and even recognizing the continuing authority of breakaway former bishops over the bishops who are recognized by this Church.”
“In doing so they give aid and comfort to breakaway factions who would take title and control of substantially all of the real and personal property of this Church and cripple its mission and ministry,” the two bishops said.
By endorsing an amicus curiae brief in the Diocese of Fort Worth lawsuit before the Texas Supreme Court, and having executed an affidavit affirming their testimony in the Quincy lawsuit the bishops had violated the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church.
The two bishops charged their colleagues with having “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.
“This is not a matter of a few unhappy bishops stating their personal views on church polity. They each affirmatively and officially acted by injecting themselves, intentionally and without invitation from the bishops exercising jurisdiction, into local litigation, opposing this Church and sister dioceses on core ecclesiastical issues regarding the very identity of other dioceses,” the two argued.
“We respectfully urge that the House of Bishops set the record straight on the polity of this Church regarding its hierarchical character,” they asked Bishop Jefferts Schori.
The nine have prepared a formal response to the charges, Bishop Salmon told Anglican Ink that will be shared with the House of Bishops in due course.
It is unclear by what authority the House of Bishops could honor the two bishops request to make a definitive statement on the ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church – especially as the course they have requested has been repudiated by past meetings of General Convention.
The last time the General Convention took up the question of hierarchical polity was in the Convention of 1898, when the committee on the Constitution and canons proposed making the presiding bishop a metropolitan archbishop and the dioceses subsidiary entities of the General Convention. The proposal was rejected and the historical model of diocesan sovereignty affirmed.