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The powers of a bishop

The powers of a bishop

Bishop Dan Martins of Springfield is one of seven bishops being investigated on disciplinary charges brought against them by an as yet unknown party for reasons seemingly rooted in their filing an amicus curaein support of the breakaway Diocese of Fort Worth in a property case currently before the Texas Supreme Court. Two other bishops are under investigation for filing affidavits in supporting a faction that broke away from the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy.

Bishop Martins writes at this blog:

I cannot presume to speak for any of the other eight, but I need to be clear that my intention in attaching my name to the amicus brief was in no way to affect the outcome of that case. As the Bishop of Springfield, which is in Illinois, it is no concern of mine how a property dispute in Texas is resolved. If my action has the effect of aiding one side or the other, that is, from my perspective, an immaterial consequence. Rather, I took the action I did with the best interests of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Springfield, as nearly as I can discern them, at heart. My principal concern was to not leave unchallenged the assertion that the Episcopal Church is a unitary hierarchical organism at all levels, and that the dioceses are entirely creatures of General Convention. I viewed signing the amicus brief as consistent with my vow to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church.

I certainly signed on reluctantly and reservedly. As a matter of general principle, I am opposed to litigating church disputes in secular courts. Lots of scripture passages are challenging to interpret, but I don’t think I Corinthians 10 is one of them. “Why not rather be defrauded?”, St Paul says. Moreover, I realize how my action could be construed as one bishop interfering in the affairs of a fellow bishop’s diocese, which is a big No-No. So I had to make a judgment call, and my judgment, after reflection and prayer, was that I had to join the intervention, because to allow such a false read of TEC polity to potentially help form legal precedent constitutes a danger that could bring harm to the church for decades to come, and resisting this outcome trumps my other concerns.


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Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

@ Tom

Thanks for the additional information. I don’t think, however, that this “states rights” approach is one that would be helpful to the church in any obvious/prima facie sort of sense. This is the argument in the Dio of SC, of course, where they have left TEC in all but name. How his failing to support such a position would be harmful to the church for “decades to come” is beyond me. If he truly feels that is the case, then why resort to the “double effect” language? Just “out with it” then and drop the “double talk.”

As an additional aside, realizing that I am not a lawyer, this simple “belief” in the polity of the church is not how the argument in the brief is framed. The brief cites not so much church polity but other cases in which the civil courts were prohibited/restrained from acting because to do so would have required that they exceed some nebulous boundary as becoming to “deeply involved” or having to probe “too extensively” in internal church matters and polity. I am not sure what the “point” of supporting this particular brief, then, as a “statement” is, as the “States rights” argument does not seem to be the center of the points made in the brief. Perhaps I am unaware that Bishop Martins has special expertise in civil law, but making a “moral” point about dearly held beliefs regarding the church and the convoluted civil case law arguments of the brief has to do with one another is beyond me. It looks to me that having the bishops sign is rather more like creating “spin” to suggest a perception of a “reality” that a significant percentage of TEC bishops believe that this is the way that TEC is organized.

Tom Sramek Jr

@Jeffrey: His point, as outlined elsewhere in his blog post, is that while General Convention DOES have a great deal of power, we also have a tradition of the semi-autonomy of individual dioceses. His example is that General Convention would be over-reaching if it compelled dioceses to combine even against their wishes. His stated reason for signing on to the brief was to point out that dioceses DO have a great deal of power over what happens within them and to them.

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.


It appears that Bishop Martins is justifying his action/consequences on the principle of the “double effect.” He did not “intend” by his testimony to “harm” the TEC or the continuing Diocese of Fort Worth nor to intervene in the affairs of that diocese, even though the “effect” might be that such harm did/could clearly come from said actions.

I would, however, question this little bit of ethics. Inasmuch as the “bad effect” in this case, a finding in the court against TEC would be a means of obtaining the “good effect” of the clarification of polity of TEC, I am not sure that this is a clearly sound application of that ethical principle, as the undesired effect may not be a means to achieve the desired one. Furthermore, the “Right intention” must clearly be separated from the “bad effect” motivationally and yet the “bad effect” is indeed presumably to Bishop Martins a _desirable_ outcome of the presumed intent/beliefs regarding church polity. In short, the “good effect/intent” and “bad effect/non-intent” seem a bit too tightly intertwined here to permit a simple application of the “double effect.”

I suppose I would be open to hearing his reasoning as to how _not_ signing the Amicus brief would facilitate “harm to the church for decades to come?”

Michael Russell

I suppose that anyone can group themselves up and call themselves an Episcopal or Anglican diocese. We are all free in that regard. However to have the protection and endorsement of TEC, that group must accede to the C&C without qualification. There is no rescission period or take backs. Every clergy person, every bishop, every diocesan convention and every speck of property and assets come under the trust and care of DFMS.

People are free to leave TEC, but in doing so they surrender any and all claims to that which has been acceded. As one Orange County judge said, “What part of ‘unqualified’ don’t you understand.” when a Convention says it removes is accession it becomes a random group of people who may worship and think as they please, hire whom they please, and even call themselves “Anglican” , but they may not steal property.

Ann Fontaine

As to timing – one has to wonder who filed the complaint, and as there was no official word of them from TEC — who put out the word of the filing and what where their motives?

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