December 8, 2007

The Immaculate Deception and the Vacant See

Well, it seems the leadership of the Diocese of San Joaquin have gone and done it. That is, the Bishop and a majority of the clergy and laity have voted to change the diocesan constitution and to realign themselves, their souls and bodies, with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Souls and bodies they may have charge of; it remains to be seen what becomes of the real property and assets, and the loyal Episcopalians (clergy and lay) who remain.

Now, of course, this is a deception; a baseless fantasy movement. Dioceses cannot so realign themselves motu proprio, on their own, any more than a man can divorce his wife or a wife her husband by saying thrice, "I divorce thee!" The church is governed by laws, and this lack of a capacity to divorce is all the more clear, constitutionally speaking, in cases such as that of San Joaquin, which began its life as a missionary diocese and was only granted full status in the 1960s. Contrary to the imaginings of former Bishop of San Joaquin John-David Schofield, the canonical silence on the subject of how dioceses become independent does not signify consent, but inconceivability. Anyone familiar with the history of The Episcopal Church should know that, and numerous canons make it clear: the territorial limits of the United States play a definitive role in determining the relationship of a domestic diocese with the only legitimately constituted Anglican presence in our portion of North America, which is to say, The Episcopal Church.

John-David wishes however to continue in his illusions, and has nourished many of his clergy and lay leadership on this addictive brew. Regardless of these dreams, now that he and they have removed their allegiance to The Episcopal Church, and allied themselves with the distant Cone of the South, it is abundantly clear that they have abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, hold its laws and its leaders in contempt, and declare themselves the true believers and possible martyrs to the cause. And the end will come, no doubt about it. The inevitable canonical process of the real Episcopal Church will now begin to be engaged, and the see of San Joaquin declared vacant; a number of clergy will be adjudged to have abandoned this communion and they too will be deposed.

Tobias Haller BSG

9 comments:

R said...

Indeed, there is little else to say, except to pray for those who grieve and be silent before our God. Thank you as always for cogent, pithy insight, Tobias!

Anonymous said...

Fr Tobias
According to Lionel Deimel's excellent analysis (http://www.deimel.org/commentary/blogger/atom.xml) it is going to be far less straight forward than you state here.
I don't understand enough about it but would be very grateful if you could possibly comment?

Erika Baker

RB said...

I suppose if you define a diocese simply by geographic boundaries, then no, of course they can't leave; they can't remove the land from the planet. But if a diocese is a group of people within certain geographic boundaries united in worship and mission, I really think they can leave. You know: freedom of religion and all that.

It's not really terribly difficult to disavow canons, which you would expect from a group of people leaving a church anyway. ("Those are your canons; we just left.") You can take away the credentials of the clergy, but since they already have placed their credentials with someone else, they can easily ignore that. You can certainly sue and possibly take the property, but that will not draw the people back into the church, and you are likely to end up with just a lot of bitterness and empty buildings.

With a vote of 90% of the clergy and 80% of the laity, it was clearly a decision of the people. Since they've been talking about it for a year, I think they had an idea of what they were getting into. And I'm under the impression that San Joaquin has been unhappy with the Episcopal Church for some time; I doubt that this happened suddenly.

I just don't believe we want Episcopalians who don't want to be Episcopalians, who remain only because they don't want to lose their beautiful buildings. If the people of San Joaquin were unhappy in our church, maybe we should hope they will find happiness elsewhere, while rejoicing that the remaining Episcopalians are now free to become the churches they want to be, and working to ensure that this happens.

I guess it disturbs me to define a church or a diocese separate from the people who actually serve and worship within it. If the people are unhappy, and we cannot resolve the problems satisfactorily within our canonical structure, doesn't it make sense just to let them go? I realize the property is a more complex issue, but surely even that can be discussed and worked out.

I'm tired of Episcopal blogs full of nice people calling each other nasty names, and would love to see it all end peaceably, one way or another.

Country Parson said...

This moment was bound to occur in one place or another and I wonder if it will not end up deflating some of the over-posturing going on among the schismatics. I want to see what the fallout will be among parishes and members. Sometimes people whose behavior is blatantly silly become quite embarrassed by it when they discover they have what they said they wanted. In any case, it is God's church and not ours, so I'm not too worried about it.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, R. Prayers are certainly in order in what will be a very painful time... for all.

Erika, I think Lionel misses some of the significance of the abandonment canon. He is correct that secular law will be engaged, but this is made easier by the essential abdication and realliance with the Southern Cone -- there is no ambiguity about the folks who are no longer members of TEC; and in most places, a number of things, from vestry membership to titles and deeds, from tax exemption status (held through membership in TEC!) and state sales tax exemption, all depend on maintaining the connection with TEC. I think Pbgh has been more aware of this than freewheeling California, as I sense that Bob D has been less rash in proclaiming not just separation from TEC but alliance with the Southern Cone Head. It is this latter realliance that seals the abandonment of communion -- a fact few seem to recognize.

RB, it is a matter of both/and not either/or. A diocese is a collection of people in a particular place, who agree to hold to a common obedience. There are both others in the area who don't hold that obedience, and those outside the area (temporarily, not having transferred membership) who remain a part of it. The removal of credentials is not a punitive act, it is required for clarity, and for the legality of action. I am confident that as this all falls out, many individual members of the dissenting parishes will think better once they realize (per today's comment from Canterbury) that the Southern Cone will not have a legitimately Anglican recognition by Canterbury, and that pending the current legal battles, they are very likely to lose their church buildings. There will be much searching of heart in the coming days, and I am convinced that many who went with Schofield in the heat of excited schismatism will have second thoughts. And the loyal parishes will remain, and set about forming a new convention to elect a new bishop; all in accord with the canons.

I share your dismay at the "nasty" language and the cheap shots made about Schofield and equally the ranting from the right. The heat vs light ration has not been productive, and I wish people would take greater care with their rhetoric. Of course, in San Joaquin's case, it would have been better for those who wished to do so to simply walk away from TEC, resign their ministry and membership, and move on. It is the effort to retain hold on the apparatus of the church while departing from it that is leading to the distress.

RB said...

I agree with the removing of the credentials, and don't see how it could be any other way. I doubt it will have any real affect without litigation, however. California will recognize their credentials from the Southern Cone as well.

I do not share your confidence about any change of heart in San Joaquin. I don't think communion with Canterbury matters greatly to the laity (it may be different with clergy), and simply can't imagine why it would. Akinola's statement about not needing Canterbury to get to Jesus is certainly right, and my guess is that interaction between the Province of Canterbury and the Diocese of San Joaquin has been limited at best. Has the absence of Canterbury's approval slowed CANA down in any way? Not that I can see.

Also, there was no illusion about the possible loss of buildings, and they have certainly been weighing that all year.

The only way they would back off is to determine that they were wrong, decide it doesn't really matter that much, or allow themselves to be intimidated. I just don't see that happening. It seems that Truth as perceived in Scripture is as much an ultimate concern (borrowing Tillich's phrase), as is Justice defined as "full inclusion" for gays and lesbians for those in Chicago. Frankly, if they do back down, their churches would empty anyway, as the leaders could hardly avoid the charge of cowardice -- probably a common charge in many conservative Episcopal churches, many of which have experienced major conflict recently as opposed to liberal churches (according to the Episcopal Overview of 2005).

Frankly, I think litigation would be disastrous for the Episcopal Church if it loses, and even more so if it succeeds. None would view this kind of intervention as anything but seizing buildings from the people who worship there -- no matter how they framed it. You would end up with a lot of empty church buildings, and not recover from the loss and notoriety for several decades. And the rebel alliance will still get their new province, with all the more sympathy from the Southern Cone.

But, if this kind of reaction is all that our leadership can imagine, so be it.

thomas bushnell, bsg said...

a wrinkle: for Schofield to be inhibited, the consent of the three senior bishops with jurisdiction is required. They are Frade, Lee, and Wimberly.

I sure hope that Wimberly's already on board, because if he's not, it's going to be annoying, because the other canon on inhibitions (IV.1) doesn't permit an inhibition without the Standing Committee's consent.

We obviously need a canon to deal with a case like this, and lacking one, the process is going to be agonizingly slow. If Wimberly chooses not to consent.

And this in turn means that the "three senior bishops" language of Canon IV.9.1 must be repealed in 2009. The Review Committee and the PB are chosen by a representative process, and that should be sufficient.

Tobias Haller said...

Dear RB,
You may well be correct in this assessment; though I would say I am taking the long view of what the situation will be in those several decades to which you refer. This is one of the problems, as I see it, with the present situation -- a lack of patience and willingness to work through things. This is required from both sides, and it has not been shown to be a strong point for the more radical of the dissenters, who are, as Canterbury has pointed out, violating the Windsor Report in their various actions of separation from TEC. However, given that long haul view, I think I can safely predict that a generation from now TEC will still exist in much its current shape and scope, and the various dissenting groups will not yet have been able to coalesce into much other than a federation or collection of federations.

Moreover, as one who was present at the Chicago Consultation, the point was made on several occasions by a number of speakers that "full inclusion" is not a particularly strong arguing point, and that for many there the chief emphasis is on the Gospel, which while it includes notions of inclusion, goes beyond it.

Thomas, you are correct in this assessment. One problem is that our canons really weren't written to cope with such actions as this. The canon on abandonment "evolved" as a collection of ad hoc departures made the growth necessary. However, I do think the senior three, including Wimberly (esp. now that Canterbury has spoken about the lack of endorsement for the Venables Plan, and the fact that this all violates Windsor) may well go along on this decision.

Paul (A.) said...

RB wrote: "With a vote of 90% of the clergy and 80% of the laity, it was clearly a decision of the people." But considering that Bp. Schofield has had two decades to weed out any priest that was not in his mold, and his clergy have had nearly as long to chase off the parishioners who wouldn't toe the line, the surprising thing is the votes of the 10% and the 20%.

Fr. Jake argues that this is a fine time for evangelism and missionary work in the territory of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, particularly considering that little church planting had been undertaken under Bp. Schofield in the urban areas populated by the "sophisticated" (presumably yuppies), or Hispanics, or Asians, or African-Americans.

God gives us opportunities, but we tend to see them only as difficulties.