Complaint filed against seven bishops

George Conger reports that someone has filed a complaint against seven Episcopal bishops who supported the breakaway Diocese of Fort Worth in an Amicus Curiae brief before the Texas Supreme Court.

We don't know who brought the charges or what they are.

Bishop F. Clayton Matthews is investigating to see if there is sufficient basis to proceed with a disciplinary action.

Conger writes:

On 28 June 2012, the Rt Rev Maurice M. Benitez, retired Bishop of Texas, the Rt Rev John W. Howe, retired Bishop of Central Florida, 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 Daniel H. Martins, Bishop of Springfield, and the Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas were informed they had been charged with misconduct.

“As the Intake Officer for the Church, I am obliged to inform you that a complaint has been received against you for your action in filing of Amicus Curiae Brief in the pending appeal in the Supreme Court of Texas in opposition to The Episcopal Diocese of Texas and The Episcopal Church. In the next few weeks, I will initiate a disciplinary process according to Title IV Canon 6 Sec. 3 & 4 of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church,” Bishop F. Clayton Matthews wrote to the seven bishops.

Comments (24)

Christ is the head of the Church, to me, that means that Love, is the head of the Church. Not man, and our imperfect understanding of humanity, compassion, morality, and eternal life, but God as a Spirit, a Spirit of love, that includes all peoples. We cannot overcome by hate, we can only truly overcome by love. I have looked, and looked, read, and read, there is no place in the Bible that Christ condemns homosexuality. This is merely our personal opinion, or interpretation. Please check his references.

I'm torn--part of me reflects on "chickens come home to roost" and part of me wonders if this is really helpful.

This I know, as someone who was a member of a parish in Ft. Worth 22 years ago (which thankfully remained Episcopalian)--that Diocese has suffered enough, and it does not deserve the meddling of other Bishops who should be supporting them.

Michael Morris

I'm very comfortable with treating this as a misconduct issue. While TEC is open to a wide range of views, filing pleadings in opposition to the church is not a different view. It is action done with deliberate intent to obstruct the work of the church.

If after careful consideration the bishops in question cannot support TEC, they should leave. But if they wish to stay they should be prepared to work together, and to work within the structure of TEC. If the latter is not possible, they must be asked to leave. They cannot have it both ways.

Eric Bonetti

I'm always uneasy when the details of an intake process under the new Title IV are made public. It encourages a rush to judgment and serves only to further divide, even before the charge has been properly vetted to see if it ought to go forward into the disciplinary process.

I can't help wondering why the individual(s) who presented the complaint described here chose not to include the authors of the amicus curae brief: The Revd Christopher Seitz, The Very Revd Philip W. Turner and the Very Revd Ephraim Radner. Surely these three are no less responsible than the seven episkopoi who chose to ride on their coattails.

We cannot tell how this will go, but I am not sure that having an announcement when it is in the intake process is fair at all.

If those charged released the information, fine and dandy, but I certainly hope Conger did not get it from the intake folks.

That said, having an opinion is fine, actually meddling in another Bishop's jurisdiction, as defined by TEC,is certainly problematic. Having them side with defendants who are in possession of the property and assets of another jurisdiction in TEC is even more so.

I would be extremely surprised if the source of this story were not those named in the complaint. And I'd be stunned if Bishop Matthews were the source.

So do bishops under investigation get to participate in GC? Seems timed a bit conveniently.

Eric, is it really good to know that if TEC sues me, I am not allowed to have anyone else in TEC stand for my defense? Or why didn't TEC when it was more conservative simply defrock all those loud mouth liberal priests/bishops, etc. if the party line is the only one allowed? I don't like the idea that members of the church can't participate in our secular legal system if they disagree with 815. TEC has a very dim view of the Vatican coming down on dissenting priests/bishops/nuns.
Chris Harwood

@Richard and @Michael - I rather doubt that Conger got his information from TEC. It's nearly certain that bishops charged chose to leak it to Conger. It serves their purposes -- publicity and the mantle of victimhood.

And, just to reiterate, the charges could be made by anyone.

I for one certainly hope that a bishop can speak her mind even in a court brief that disputes TEC's position on who owns the property -- a position that the courts have agreed with nearly 100% of the time. Property is held in trust by the larger church.

Chris, the bishops' participation in convention is not affected. We don't actually know when this charge was made or what it was for. We only know when the news was released. Someone may indeed have been timing it conveniently, but we don't know who or why.

I don't know what the specific violation these guys are charged with might be. I don't think people who believe what they believe about the power of a bishop should be allowed to become bishops. But I have no sense what you can do about it after they take office.

To say the least, I find it more than a little amusing that many of the same people who consider the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to be heroes and the Vatican to be oppressive bullies can turn around and apparently demand absolute, total and unquestioning obedience to the views of Second Avenue.

I find it interesting that this has come out literally on the eve of General Convention. No, it shouldn't affect their function in General Convention. After all, all we have here is an allegation and the information that the allegation is being investigated. It is true that these bishops were signers of the amicus brief; but we don't know whether that was the presenting issue.

My hope is that this is simply coincidental. I prefer not to attribute connivance unless there is clear evidence. So far, anything like that would be speculation.

Marshall Scott

I find this news to be really disconcerting. They are arguing one point which is that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical only in the diocese, a commonly held belief especially those more catholic minded. They do not support the total argument of the departing diocese only the point that in TEC the diocese is the central body. A view I hold.

Am I now in danger of having charges filed against me?

I am deeply saddened by this abuse of the canons. I hope the Presiding Bishop will speak out against this attempt to silence views in the church. I hope this is a product of the deficiencies of Title IV and not a sign of things to come.


The whole thing is rotten.

@Chris H: Thank you for your comments.

In response to your question, yes, it is good to know when any party related to our church brings suit or other legal action. Transparency is key and I in no way countenance backroom dealing, whether it involves the dissident parishes or the church as a whole. If one cannot sign one's name to one's actions, (absent compelling exceptions, such as threats of violence or similar issues), then one must question the validity of those actions.

Nor is anyone denying the right of parties to come to the defense of one who is wronged. In this case, however, those who have filed amicus briefs attempt to call into question the very hierarchy they have sworn to uphold. I recognize that women and men of good conscience may sometimes find themselves to be in that situation. When that is the case, however, one must publicly recognize that to be the case, and speak out for what one believes to be right.

In such a case, it is disingenuous to argue that one’s views should not be called inconsistent with the canons of TEC. Was that not the very point the dissidents raised in their amicus pleadings? That they disagreed with the majority view of the church? If that indeed is the case, then why would the dissidents not welcome the opportunity to present their views to the larger church?

As to your comment about "simply defrock[ing]" those responsible, I support the rule of law and the notion of due process, which is aptly reflected in our canons. The clergy in question must be heard, and not simply defrocked for disagreeing. If, however, we reach the end of that process and it is clear that those who have filed the amicus briefs are not prepared to support TEC as a hierarchical organization, then all involved must recognize that the situation involves irreconcilable differences and a failure or inability to honor the relevant ordination vows. Once that is acknowledged, we can go from there.

Eric Bonetti

I submit that all of you need to actually read the document in question.

A number of you are embarrassing yourselves with your comments here because you think you know what these men did. Reading the document may show that what you think they did, is in fact, not what they did. Yes, they have sided with Iker and company in asking the TX Supreme Court to overturn the lower court's decision, but it is based on a difference of opinion as to whether TEC's polity is hierarchical, not because they agree with Iker and company leaving TEC.

Perhaps TEC should make understanding someone's opinion about the polity of TEC a litmus test for being made a bishop, but that is something for your General Convention to decide.

Bro David

I haven't read much of the actual brief (thank you for the link, David), but I see that some of those named are what I would consider to be expert in this particular area. That leaves me with the questions, what canons of TEC have they violated, or is it just bad form? Are just the bishops in violation or are all named? Naturally, I understand that just a complaint has been lodged and that they are not judged to be in violation of anything at this point by TEC.

I mean that as an honest question; I am still relatively new to TEC and some of this is beyond my understanding. However, it seems that their complaint is not necessarily with the decision of the lower court, but in the way the lower court defined TEC in their decision, a small but potentially significant detail. If that is the case, I could see wanting it to be retried/appealed in order to have a proper legal understanding of TEC structure and hierarchy. Am I correct in reading this as an argument over the nature of the hierarchy of TEC, that happens to be tangental to the hot topic issues surrounding break away diocese?

I am far from being in the camp of ACI and the bishops involved, but I am very uneasy about this.

I'm concerned about the timing of these charges coming right before General Convention. I don't think a fresh round of conflict is helpful, especially considering the tension that will be present around budgetary and structural issues that are sure to be raised in Indianapolis. If I were the cynical sort I would say that this investigation is a way to deflect energy from some of the very real issues that need to be addressed, and soon.

@David. I have indeed read all of the pleadings in question. The place to resolve the issues in question is either at GC, or via communication with the office of the PB. And while I do not know with certainty, I am confident that neither has asked the bishops to file an amicus brief.

I would add that the investigation at this point asks the question whether there is cause to proceed. No one may assume guilt based on the present posture of the case, but this is, indeed, the correct forum to ask the question. Further, the fact that we have a churchwide process to address such questions speaks to the matter of whether we are, indeed, hierarchical.

Eric Bonetti

I've spent my career in health care, and have in fact been part of the process of credentialing physicians at a previous hospital. That review included knowing about allegations, suits, etc, currently open and in the recent past. One of the things of that the experience brought home is that "anyone can sue anyone else over anything."

My point is that all we know at this point is that person or persons unhappy about the amicus brief have alleged that these bishops shouldn't have filed it, and that filing it crossed a line. Until there's been examination of that question - which is to say, until matters have been investigated - we don't have an answer. We have our opinions, too, and more power to us; but they're only opinions.

I'm conscious over a long career about how many times bishops have done things that brought allegations, and that resulted in decisions that the actions in question didn't rise to the level of violations. Until the process has been completed, we don't have an answer; and the process will take time, especially with the General Convention gearing up. So, as I said, I'm concerned about timing, but not inclined to jump to conspiracy theories. In the meantime, the thing to do is wait.

Marshall Scott

@ Eric B

So you believe that these men need the permission of GC or 815 to act as both citizens of your nation and members of your province to file their opinion in the matter with the TX high court?

Or that they need permission only because their opinion is in support of the opinion held by the schismatic Anglican Dio of Ft Worth and in opposition to the position of the Episcopal Dio of Ft Worth and TEC?

Would you feel different if they had sided with TEC and company?

BTW, I am not just playing Devil's Advocate, I think that these are important questions for you and others to consider. Regardless of whether their opinions support or differ with that of TEC, do they have a right to express it publicly? And to offer it as an intervention in a court proceeding involving TEC?

Personally, I agree with TEC's position. And I think that TEC needs to tie down what it means for a bishop of TEC to hold a position regarding the polity/hierarchy of TEC contrary to TEC's official position. And then to tie down whether a bishop who holds a position different to that of TEC is being disloyal.

But does TEC currently have an official position or do we all just assume that it does? Has GC ever officially stated the polity/hierarchical structure of TEC? Does it need to or is it a matter of interpreting the C&Cs? Can a bishop disagree with TEC's official interpretation of the C&Cs and not be disloyal?

@David. Thank you for your comments and questions.

Note that I did not state that the bishops need permission. What I did state is that, having apparently failed to pursue a consensus-based approach, it is only fair to permit others within TEC to challenge that approach. If a bishop uses her or his role in the church to advocate a particular position and does it without consultation with the larger organization, then one cannot complain when the larger organization responds by calling into question those actions.

If, on the other hand, the amicus filing was done in collaboration with the larger church, then by definition there is nothing to fear.

In either case, those who feel aggrieved have appropriately followed our canons, processes and procedures in seeking redress of their grievances. As such, there is nothing wrong in so doing, and filing a complaint compares favorably with the ACNA folks, who essentially argue that the canons only apply when convenient for them.

Eric Bonetti

Saying absolutely NOTHING about the merits/non-merits of this case---my judgment is completely reserved, and MY judgment has no effect anyway---I'd prefer a link to the document in question that doesn't have the address of "4 guys and a website" (ACI). "Consider the source" and all that.

JC Fisher

A couple other points of note apropos Bro. David's questions:

- Yes, we do know that TEC deems itself to be hierarchical. Such were the pleadings in the Virginia, Pittsburgh and other cases.

- All dioceses are required to have an accession clause in their constitutions. This requirement has existed since the regrouping of TEC after the revolution, and was, for example, part of what was agreed upon when DioVA and other historic dioceses, became part of TEC.

- Under Supreme Court precedent, one of the two permissable approachs to handling church property disputes is deference to a church's own decisions if the church deems itself to be hierarchical. Such an approach is well established; indeed, that was the approach the courts took some years ago when a former priest of the Falls Church Episcopal was sued for sexual misconduct because of an alleged relationship with a woman under his care. Startlingly enough, the court declined to rule, saying only that a relationship with a parishioner was a matter for the church to handle through its canons. (Thankfully, TEC did act against the alleged perpetrator.)

Eric Bonetti

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