A letter to the House of Bishops from the Presiding Bishop:
April 30, 2008
For the House of Bishops
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Inasmuch as the past several weeks have involved some significant situations, I thought it would be helpful to review and comment on process. First, regarding deposition for “abandonment of the communion of The Episcopal Church,” it is important to remember that such an act is not by definition punitive, but does give formal recognition to a reality already taking place. Once the Title IV Review Committee has certified that a bishop has abandoned the communion of this Church under Title IV, Canon 9, the bishop in question is given sixty days to respond.
During this sixty day period, Title IV has a provision for temporary inhibition of the bishop by the Presiding Bishop with the consent of the three senior active bishops of the Church. These bishops who must consent to the temporary inhibition do not, however, have a veto over consideration of the merits of the deposition by the House of Bishops, any more than those who must consent to temporary inhibitions in other circumstances have a veto over consideration of the charges by a trial court. This understanding of the canon is held not only by my Chancellor, but also by members of the Title IV Review Committee including an attorney who is an original member of the Committee, the chancellors of several dioceses who have been consulted, and the former Chair of both the Standing Commission on the Constitution and Canons and the Legislative Committee on the Canons at the General Convention.
As the actual vote regarding deposition draws near, it is important to recognize what does and does not constitute a relevant response by the bishop in question. A letter of resignation from the House is irrelevant to the charges brought forward by the Review Committee and the deposition proceedings, since deposition concerns a person’s ordination in this Church, not simply participation in the House of Bishops. Resignation from the House thus has no bearing on following through with the charges brought forward by the Review Committee. Deposition in this situation makes clear in an official way that the bishop in question is no longer permitted to exercise ordained ministry in this Church.
Regarding how the vote is to be taken, the canon is clear that a vote on deposition must occur at “regular or special meeting of the House.” Although we have other canonical consent provisions where consents may be secured by written ballot through the mail, that process does not satisfy the canons here. Every bishop entitled to vote is invited to the meeting and given ample notice that there will be a vote on depositions. Materials surrounding the deposition in question are posted in the “Bishops Only” section of the College for Bishops website. The canon is read that a quorum be present and a majority of all bishops present who are entitled to vote consent to the deposition, as was done in the case of Bishop Davies of Fort Worth in the 1990s and Bishop Larrea of Ecuador Central in 2005. In terms of parliamentary rules of order, any questions about the propriety of a vote are to be raised before the meeting or, of course, during it.
These are weighty matters, and it is important that we take seriously our procedures, as well as their purpose and intent. It is also important that we remember the reason that such canons and procedures are in place. These matters with which we are confronted have ramifications for many outside our House. For those who would like an alternative to deposition, we already have one, in the form of renunciation of vows in this Church, so that anyone may pursue his or her conscience and desires in another part of Christ’s Body. This option makes clear and clean an individual’s departure from The Episcopal Church. Resignation from the House is quite different, since it only deals with the person’s relation to the House, not to The Episcopal Church. Thus, to resign from the House while still claiming jurisdiction over a diocese with its property and assets is not a viable alternative.
Some have misunderstood the impact and intent of deposition. It is this Church’s formal way of saying to the world that the deposed cleric is no longer permitted to act as a sacramental representative of this Church. If vows to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church are not voluntarily renounced, how otherwise can a cleric take up new vows to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of another Church?
These are indeed difficult decisions that we at times are called to make, and I have no doubt that all of us would wish things were different. We must respond to the situations with which we are faced, compassionately but not naively, knowing that we make these decisions not for ourselves alone but for the people whom we are called to shepherd and oversee. I remain
Your servant in Christ,
Katharine Jefferts Schori
Update, Wednesday afternoon, from the for-what-it's-worth department: according to George Conger at The Living Church,
Sufficient legal grounds exist for presenting Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori for ecclesiastical trial on 11 counts of violating the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, according to a legal memorandum that has begun circulating among members of the House of Bishops.
Prepared by an attorney on behalf of a consortium of bishops and church leaders seeking legal counsel over the canonical implications of the Presiding Bishop’s recent actions, it is unclear whether a critical mass of support will form behind the report’s recommendations for any action to be taken, persumably as a violation of the Presiding Bishop’s ordination vows.