Presiding Bishop accepts Lawrence’s renunciation

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs has sent a media release announcing that The Presiding Bishop has accepted Mark Lawrence’s renunciation:

Presiding Bishop accepts Lawrence’s renunciation

[December 5, 2012] Citing Title III, Canon 12, Section 7 of the Constitutions and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and following thorough discussion with the Council of Advice, with their advice and consent, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has accepted the renunciation of the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church of Mark Lawrence as made in his public address on November 17 and she has released him from his orders in this Church.

The Presiding Bishop made the announcement December 5. The Presiding Bishop informed Lawrence by phone, email and mail on December 5. Following that, the House of Bishops was notified.

According to the documents, Lawrence “is therefore removed from the Ordained Ministry of this Church and released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred on him in Ordinations. This action is taken for causes that do not affect his moral character.”

The renunciation is effective immediately on December 5.

The renunciation was consented to by the members of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice, who are the presidents or vice presidents of the nine Provinces of the Episcopal Church: Bishops Stephen Lane of Maine (Province I), Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island (Province II), Neff Powell of Southwestern Virginia (Province III), Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida (Province IV); Wayne Smith of Missouri (Province V), Rob O’Neill of Colorado (Province VI), Larry Benfield of Arkansas (Province VII), James Mathes of San Diego (Province VIII) and Francisco Duque of Colombia (Province IX). Also members of the Council of Advice are Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas, vice president of the House of Bishops and Bishop Clay Matthews of the Office of Pastoral Development. Note: Bishop Dabney Smith was not present at the meeting because of illness.

November 17 address

On November 17, Lawrence presented an address in which he publicly proclaimed the disassociation of the diocese from the Episcopal Church: “We have withdrawn from that Church that we along with six other dioceses help to organize centuries ago.” He also said: “We have moved on. With the Standing Committee’s resolution of disassociation the fact is accomplished: legally and canonically.”

Facts leading up to the renunciation

Pastoral outreach to Lawrence had been ongoing for a period of several years, including up to the time he announced his intentions.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori along with members of her staff took steps to work with Lawrence. In addition, repeated attempts by the Bishops of Province IV and notably Bishop Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina were made to discuss the situation with Lawrence and to offer help in achieving a resolution.

On September 18, 2012, the House of Bishops Disciplinary Board signed a “Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church and Statement of the Acts or Declarations Which Show Such Abandonment” in the case of the Bishop of South Carolina.

The House of Bishops Disciplinary Board was created by General Convention (Canon IV.5(1) and 17(2)), is separate from the Office of the Presiding Bishop, and is composed of 10 bishops, four lay persons, and four clergy elected by General Convention from throughout the Church.

In its “certificate,” the Disciplinary Board announced that it had “reviewed complaints from twelve adult communicants in good standing resident in the Diocese of South Carolina and two priests canonically resident in that Diocese…” Thus, the Title IV actions were initiated by members of the Diocese of South Carolina, not the Presiding Bishop.

The Disciplinary Board recited three “Acts” by the bishop to show such abandonment:

• First, resolutions came before the diocesan convention in 2010 proposing, among other things, to amend the diocesan Constitution to qualify the diocese’s accession to the Constitution of the Church and to remove any provision acceding to the canons of the Church, as well as proposals to amend the diocesan Canons to remove all references to the canons of the Church. The Disciplinary Board found:

“The failure of Bishop Lawrence to rule these resolutions out of order or otherwise to dissent from their adoption, and in fact his endorsement of these resolutions in his address to the 219th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

• Second, in October 2011, Bishop Lawrence, as President of the diocese’s nonprofit corporation, filed amendments to the corporate charter deleting all references to the Church and obedience to its Constitution and canons. The Disciplinary Board found:

“Bishop Lawrence’s action in signing, executing, and filing of the Articles of Amendment altering the stated purpose of the nonprofit corporation known as The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

• Third, in November 2011, Bishop Lawrence either signed or directed others to sign, “quitclaim deeds to every parish of the Diocese of South Carolina disclaiming any interest in the real estate held by or for the benefit of each parish.” The Disciplinary Board found:

“Bishop Lawrence’s action in directing the issuance of these quitclaim deeds in an effort to impair the trust interest of The Episcopal Church and of the Diocese of South Carolina in the affected real estate, and in personally executing such quitclaim deeds, violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duties to ‘safeguard the property and funds of the Church’ and to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

The Disciplinary Board therefore “request[ed] that the Presiding Bishop record this Certificate and Statement and take such further action concerning Bishop Mark J. Lawrence as may be required by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.” The Canons, however, required the Presiding Bishop to restrict the ministry of Lawrence immediately.

On Monday, October 15, the Presiding Bishop notified Lawrence by telephone that the Disciplinary Board had certified to her that he had engaged in conduct “constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

The Presiding Bishop in the same conversation notified him that shortly before she placed that telephone call she had in writing “placed a restriction on the exercise of ministry of Bishop Lawrence ‘until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.’” She explained that the document also stated that “[d]uring the period of such restriction, ‘the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.’”

The Presiding Bishop received a telephone call from Lawrence on Wednesday, October 17, in which she understood him to say he could not keep an agreement that the two had made on October 15 to hold the Board’s “Certificate” and the restriction on ministry in confidence until after an upcoming meeting. She understood him to explain that the Chancellor of the Diocese had concluded that under the Diocese’s rules, the disciplinary action against Lawrence had triggered a change in the status of the Diocese to the effect of its having “disassociated” from the Episcopal Church.

On the same day, an announcement on the diocesan website stated that the “leadership” of the Diocese “had in place resolutions which would become effective upon any action by TEC [i.e., Church].” The statement continued: “As a result of TEC’s attack against our Bishop, the Diocese of South Carolina is disassociated from TEC, that is, its accession to the TEC Constitution and its membership in TEC have been withdrawn.”

More information is available on the Perspectives page here:

Pastoral Letter

In her November 15 Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of South Carolina, the Presiding Bishop clarified “a number of issues which I understand are being discussed.” Among them:

“1) While some leaders have expressed a desire to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese has not left. It cannot, by its own action….The decisions “announced” by leaders in South Carolina appear to be unilateral responses to anxiety about decisions made by General Convention and/or the actions of the Disciplinary Board concerning Bishop Lawrence.

“The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed. If it becomes fully evident that those former leaders have, indeed, fully severed their ties with The Episcopal Church, new leaders will be elected and installed by action of a Diocesan Convention recognized by the wider Episcopal Church, in accordance with our Constitution and Canons.

“3) Bishop Lawrence was charged by several members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with having “abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church” by making or condoning actions which repudiate the polity (violate the canons or rules) of The Episcopal Church. These actions have to do with formally attempting to separate the Diocese of South Carolina, its congregations, and their property from the wider Episcopal Church without its consent. The Diocese of South Carolina is a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, and that status cannot be altered without the action of General Convention.

“The disciplinary processes of this Church carefully considered the matters with which Bishop Lawrence was charged, and the Disciplinary Board found that he had indeed repudiated the polity of this Church.”

The Presiding Bishop’s complete letter is here:

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  1. billydinpvd

    This really does seem wrong. He obviously did not renounce his orders. ECUSA needs to find a way to deal with scoundrels w/o stooping to their level.

    Bill Dilworth

  2. Katie Sherrod

    The PB accepted the “renunciation of the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church of Mark Lawrence.” He is still a bishop, but he cannot function as a bishop in The Episcopal Church. When you leave The Episcopal Church, you don’t get to remain in The Episcopal Church. Nor do you get to keep Episcopal Church property.

    Katie Sherrod

    Fort Worth

  3. “This action is taken for causes that do not affect his moral character.” That’s generous. And appropriately so, but it’s still generous.

  4. Jvanborssum

    A duplicitous schemer and conspirator who acted in bad faith for years. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.

    Jason VanBorssum

    Los Angeles

  5. Jvanborssum

    A duplicitous schemer and conspirator who acted in bad faith for years. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.

    Jason VanBorssum

    Los Angeles

  6. Ronald Caldwell

    Lawrence renounced his role in the Episcopal Church immediately after his suspension of Oct. 15. He said in my presence “I am no longer an Episcopalian” on Oct. 28. Of course the words and actions on Nov. 17 speak for themselves. As painful as this was, the Presiding Bishop did the right thing. Lawrence took himself out of the Episcopal Church. Now, the Episcopalians in the low country can get on with the business of being the church and do so under a new provisional bishop. Waiting until the House of Bishops meets next March would have retarded the reorganization of the diocese. The Episciopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina and its friends owe a debt of gratitude to the Presiding Bishop.

  7. Lionel Deimel

    When, in October 2006, I wrote that consents should not be given for the consecration of Mark Lawrence. I said, among other things:

    Not only are bishops and standing committees free to withhold consent to consecrate Mark Lawrence, but it would be a serious lapse of judgment to do otherwise. It is suicidal for the church to consecrate bishops dedicated to destroying it, bishops committed to making schism a reality.

    (Recall that Lawrence did not collect the required consents, but the diocese elected him a second time, and the church did not have the resolve to reject Lawrence again.)

    We have now come to the inevitable consequence of making Lawrence a bishop. This sad chapter in our church’s history is now closed. The next chapter will play out among the Episcopalians remaining in the Low Country and, unfortunately, in the courts.

  8. tobias haller

    While I believe that Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, I do not think he has renounced his ministry, at least in the manner required by the Canon (III.12.7) which requires both a written declaration to the Presiding Bishop and a “desire to be removed.” I think the process of dealing with the abandonment should have been followed, the November 17 speech — and other actions — obviously not constituting “a good faith retraction” of those things that led to the charge of abandonment.

    Haste is not our friend

  9. I believe that Tobias is actually correct. Lawrence has clearly abandoned The Episcopal Church, and we should be following the procedures of Title IV’s Canon 16. Not only has no written request been received from Lawrence, but Canon 12.7b of Title III says this:

    If a Bishop making the aforesaid declaration of the renunciation of the ordained Ministry be under Presentment for any canonical Offense, or shall have been placed on Trial for the same, the Presiding Bishop shall not consider or act upon such declaration until after the Presentment shall have been dismissed or the said Trial shall have been concluded and the Bishop judged not to have committed an Offense.

    At one level, the Presiding Bishop is saving everyone both grief and expense, but (1) Lawrence doesn’t deserve a get-out-of-jail-free card, and (2) the PB has opened herself up to further criticism that she is acting like a tyrant.

  10. Lionel, it is both more and less complicated than that. ML was not under Presentment for an Offense but charged with abandonment, which has its own canonical rules, including the option to “renounce” under III.12.7. Problem is that “renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Woship of the Church — which constitutes abandonment — is not the same things as “renunciation of of the Ordained Ministry.” I think it clear that Lawrence has done the former, but it is not at all clear he has done the latter — at least in the form set out in the Canon, by a written statement to that effect.

  11. I’m still a bit irritated that this sort of thing was not foreseen and canonical changes put into place at GC 2012 to deal with the specific instance of diocesan leadership attempting to remove a diocese from TEC. It seems like the biggest problem is that there are all kinds of canonical tools available, but none are fully appropriate to this situation and so leave the Presiding Bishop and others feeling like they must do something but having little canonical support to do so and thus being accused of being heavy-handed and autocratic.

    Heck, there isn’t even a canon that says “No parish, mission, or diocese of The Episcopal Church may unilaterally disassociate from or leave The Episcopal Church and no property held in trust for The Episcopal Church may be transferred or sold without the express written permission of the Bishop and Standing Committee of a diocese or, in the case of a diocese attempting to disassociate or leave, the permission of the Presiding Bishop and the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice.” Why not?

  12. tobias haller

    Tom Sramek, I agree concerning the lack of clarity in the canons, which could have been clarified.

    I will say that there is no reason for an express clause forbidding secession, just as there is no such clause in the US Constitution. “Union” “accession” “ratification” and so on are believed sufficient, in the absence of any provision permitting secession to surmise it goes without saying.

  13. billydinpvd

    I thought that Resolution A030 was supposed to address this use of the language of renunciation of orders. What happened to it?

    Claiming that the renunciation of orders is simply a matter of one’s relationship to the Episcopal Church makes no sense whatsoever. It’s not unlike claiming that leaving the Episcopal Church requires one to renounce one’s baptism. When a deacon, priest, or bishop renounces their orders, they aren’t saying, “I don’t want to work as a ____________ in the Episcopal Church any more.” They’re saying, “I don’t want to function as a ______________, period.”

    Neither the language of the canon in question nor its historical use seem to give any support to the idea that renunciation of orders is any more of a local or provincial matter than ordination itself is.

    Bill Dilworth

  14. tgflux

    Somebody put this in plain English: this means he clears out of the Episcopal Cathedral (and, presumably, bishop’s residence)? All those IN the parishes (e.g. parish sanctuaries) of the DioSC understand that xLawrence isn’t their bishop anymore? They’re awaiting the process for their new, HoB-approved bishop?

    In short: is the war OVER, please God?

    JC Fisher

  15. Timothy Powers

    I agree that the canonical processes may have been jumbled here. But it seems that our canons are not set up for these types of situations. That should be an inducement to have our canons reviewed by expert legal minds. Because, simply, most of us, to paraphrase JC Fisher, just want the war to be OVER!

  16. Joe Monk

    No JC, thats not what it means at all. As you will recall, the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that the Dennis Canon was of no legal effect.

    So, in short, what the PB has done is the declaration of war, not the end.

    Expect ECUSA to expend millions of dollars in legal fees for the “property”.

  17. Partisans of Mark Lawrence have been saying that the Dennis Canon is of no effect in South Carolina. Perhaps it is, but in most cases where courts have dismissed the Dennis Canon, The Episcopal Church has won anyway. The Pawleys Island case involved some unique facts, and it is unclear what might be the outcome in other property litigation in South Carolina. For more information, see the contemporary account here.


    Per Bill Dilworth above, I believe the revision of III.12 passed at General Convention takes effect at the beginning of the new triennium, January 1, 2013. So an action this month is under the 2009 canon.

    Bruce Robison

  19. billydinpvd

    Thank you, Bruce, for clearing up that bit of confusion.

  20. tgflux

    OK, Joe.

    If my hypothesis had been confirmed, I was going to—while remaining in profound disagreement over theology—nevertheless offer my sincere thanks to former Bishop Lawrence, for his integrity.

    But you’re telling me, instead, that the former bishop is severely lacking in integrity, and that no gratitude to him on my part is appropriate. Very informative; thank you, Joe.

    JC Fisher

  21. Mark Lawrence is no longer a priest or a bishop in the Episcopal Church. He himself has declared this to be so. What he is outside TEC, I’m not prepared to say. What if Lawrence never renounces his orders in writing? Is the situation in the diocese to be left hanging in uncertainty? What about the faithful Episcopalians in the true Diocese of South Carolina?

    I don’t see how the PB could have handled the situation without it being messy, but I’m inclined to support the latest move in order for the remaining Episcopalians in the diocese can move on.

    June Butler

  22. In my final sentence, I meant to say, “…in order for the remaining Episcopalians in the diocese to move on.”

    June Butler

  23. Joe Monk

    Quite the opposite JC.

    It is the PB who is lacking in integrity, among other virtues.

  24. Ann Fontaine

    Joe Monk – you do not know the Presiding Bishop at all – your opinion is obviously formed by reading to many of her “haters.” I would say you are guilty of libel.

  25. Paul Powers

    I don’t question the Presiding Bishop’s integrity, but for the reasons Tobias and others have stated, I believe that she has misused the renunciation canon in this case, as she did in the cases of Bishop Iker, Bishop Wantland, and Bishop Ackerman, among others. In none of these cases did the bishop in question send a written declaration to the Presiding Bishop, as required by the canons.

    And there was another option: they could have been deposed by the House of Bishops. At least then, if any of them had wished to, they could have pleaded their case to their fellow bishops. With the renunciation canon, there is no such opportunity.

    Besides, Katharine Jefferts Schori won’t be the Presiding Bishop forever, but a precedent has been set for future PB’s, some of whom may use the canon against a bishop you like.

  26. Joe Monk

    Ann – why yes I do know her. I formed my opinion of her after meeting her personally here in Texas, shortly after her election as PB.

    Her lack of integrity can be succinctly summed in these fine words from Bishop Bill Wantland (himself a lawyer and a judge in Oklahoma) in 2009:

    “This will acknowledge electronic receipt on this date of a letter apparently not mailed to me, but dated January 15, 2009, purporting to “accept” my letter to you dated November 15, 2008 as a Renunciation of my Orders.”

    “As you must know, my letter specifically declared that “I am not resigning my Orders”. Nowhere do I renounce or resign my Orders. My letter to you in no way comports with the provisions of Canon III. 12. 7.”

    “I would request a response, indicating whether you lack a basic understanding of the English language, or choose to engage in illegal activites. There is no other possible rational interpretation of your actions.”

  27. Bill Dilworth

    Paul Powers – well said, especially the last paragraphs. Some progressives have the truly lamentable tendency to give sympathetic leaders too much power when it is convenient for progressive causes, with a blind eye towards that power’s use by non-progressives.

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