The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has deposed Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh for abandonment of communion. Eighty-eight bishops voted in favor of deposing Duncan, 35 voted against and four abstained according to several sources in the House of Bishops.
“The House of Bishops worked carefully and prayerfully to consider the weighty matter of Bishop Duncan. The conversation was holy, acknowledging the pain of our deliberations as well as the gratitude many have felt over the years for their relationships with, and the ministry of, Robert Duncan,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement after the meeting.
“The House concluded, however, that his actions over recent months and years constitute ‘abandonment of the communion of this church’ and that he should be deposed. Concern was expressed for the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the face of leadership which has sought to remove itself from the Episcopal Church.
The vote comes just two weeks before the Diocese of Pittsburgh determines whether to affiliated with the theologically conservative Province of the Southern Cone, the numerically small, geographically vast Anglican province based in Argentina that has more than doubled its membership by recruting disaffected Episcopal, Canadian and Brazilian churches.
“I’m very sad, sad for the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Duncan told Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “In 15 days the diocese will determine whether it, too, wants to be part of the Southern Cone and figure out whether it wants me back as bishop. That is up to the diocese, although I have a sneaking suspicion they will want me back,” he said.
The vote on deposition did not follow strict ideological lines. Some bishops who hold liberals views on same-sex relationships, the matter that has precipitated the current controversy in the Episcopal Church voted against deposing Duncan, while some who shared his views on homosexuality voted in favor of deposition.
“As difficult as this decision is for me and many others in our Church, it is important to realize that the decision in the House today was not based on the theological convictions of Bishop Duncan, but rather on the evidence presented regarding statements and actions concerning moves to take the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Gary Lilibridge of West Texas, a theological conservative, who voted against deposing Duncan, esaid in a summary of the meeting released by Neva Rae Fox of the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem and several others said that the bishops voted to depose Duncan yesterday, rather than waiting until after the diocese’s vote on October 4 to avoid another situation similar to the one in the Diocese of San Joaquin in which two or more entities are make claims to the assets of the Church. This concern was enough to motivate a number of bishops who came to the meeting prepared to defer a vote to change their minds and vote to depose Duncan.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh was so certain the bishop would be deposed that it had a press release and a statement from the Standing Committee, as well as an illustration of a crozier and mitre resting across an empty chair online within an hour of the vote.
The Standing Committee, which is now the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese, supports Duncan. Its members include the Rev. Geoff Chapman, author of the secretive Chapman Memo. The Chapman Memo, which came to light in 2004, laid out plans to place Episcopal Church property into the hands of archbishops in other parts of the world who would then hand it back to Duncan and his allies.
The Rev. David Wilson, president of the Standing Committee told Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press that Duncan’s ouster was “a very painful moment.”
“The leadership of The Episcopal Church has inserted itself in a most violent manner into the affairs and governance of our diocese,” Wilson said. “We will stand firm against any further attempts by those outside our boundaries to intimidate us.”
The group “Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh” (PEP) said in a statement:
“[Duncan] has rejected numerous opportunities and warnings to reconsider and change course. Instead, he has continued resolutely to pursue a course of action designed to remove this diocese and many unwilling Episcopalians from The Episcopal Church.
Now that the House of Bishops has acted, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh needs to find a way to move forward gracefully and productively.”
Following are some other statements from bishops:
A statement from the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, September 18, 2008
The Bishops of Los Angeles are in full agreement with the clear reasons why the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan is to be deposed as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The Title IV Review Committee certified in 2007 that Bishop Duncan has abandoned communion of the Episcopal Church, defined by the canons as “an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church …” (Title IV, Canon 10, Section 1).
Bishop Duncan has persisted in his attempts to lead large numbers of people out of his diocese and into affiliation with the overseas Anglican Province of the Southern Cone — even after our Presiding Bishop, and also the Archbishop of Canterbury, most recently this summer at the Lambeth Conference, called for an end to such actions.
The House of Bishops’ vote calling on the Presiding Bishop to depose Bishop Duncan is a direct result of Bishop Duncan’s actions, and not a referendum on his beliefs. People may leave the Episcopal Church as they choose, but dioceses, constituted by the General Convention, do not leave. Rather, the property of dioceses and congregations, given by past parishioners, is held in trust for the Episcopal Church’s mission at present and for the future.
The people of the Diocese of Pittsburgh especially need our prayers at this time, and the faithful Episcopalians there need our reassurance that their congregations continue as part of the Episcopal Church. We also pray that Pittsburgh’s diocesan convention, meeting on October 4, will choose a course of continuing and vital mission within the Episcopal Church.
A statement from Paul Marshall, Bishop of Bethlehem, correcting some misinformation in the blogosphere:
There is already a huge amount of misinformation and, sadly, disinformation on the web, so I will make a few points about today and leave you in peace as I go to dinner with my colleagues at the new church center in SLC.
Bishop Duncan’s deposition was not approved because of what he _might_ do in October, but on account of what he has done heretofore. That was the only basis on which the PB, the Review Committee, or the House had any business proceeding.
The House of Bishops did not have the choice to say, oh, well, he should have a full-blown trial (which is actually more damaging to the defendant). Priests and lay people in Pittsburgh filed the complaint that his actions came under the meaning of the canon by abandoning the discipline of the church. We could act only on what the complainants in Pittsburgh laid before us.
Bishop Duncan was invited to come, with any witnesses and other evidence he might wish to produce, to the hearing last night and the sessions today. He could have easily purged himself of his abandonment of communion, but chose not to. I believe this attests to his basic integrity, by the way.
The House upheld the rulings of the Chancellor, Parliamentarian, and the PB, that the canons were being appropriately applied. It was deeply uncomfortable for me to observe people who have over the last decade or so personally behaved with a somewhat remarkable flexibility about the rules of the church’s life suddenly emerge as strict constructionists of certain canons. I wanted to rise to the mic and discuss the Commerce Clause with them, but did not feel it would add anything to an essentially ecclesial matter. That day may come, however.
As to the canon in question (IV-9), it describes several sets of ways one may be judged to have abandoned “the doctrine, discipline OR worship of this church.” None of those ways require joining another church (which Robert Duncan claims to have done as of this morning). In a later section of the canon, we learn Abandonment can consist of as small an act as performing episcopal acts for churches not in communion with TEC. Had the complainants addressed that issue, of course, the case would have been even stronger.
The House, I think, has eight lawyer-bishops in it, and certainly contains many very sharp people in terms of our history and theology, so it would be very unfair to allege, as one colleague has publicly done this evening, that the proceedings of the last 24 hours were shallow or misinformed. While I heard things I disagreed with or thought ill-founded, I find that the bishops here are all people of considerable depth, and many of them have great breadth of learning as well.
The PB’s leadership was, consistent with her entire public ministry since her election, flawless. She allowed no space for anything vindictive or self-pitying, and kept us focussed on our task. I was deeply impressed by how she handled herself at Lambeth, and am even more grateful for how she conducted herself during these days.
I really will stop now. I will see many of you next week and we can discuss things further in a more dialogical way.
A statement from Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas:
The House of Bishops made a decisive determination today that Bishop Robert Duncan has abandoned the Communion of The Episcopal Church. The evidence presented to the House of Bishops was meticulously assembled and irrefutable to me and to a wide majority of the House. It is never a happy task to render such a judgment, but as bishops it is our solemn responsibility to protect the Unity, Doctrine and Discipline of our church, and we have done so. I ask that you keep the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Duncan family in your prayers.
A statement from the Nigerian Church is here.