Bishops express support for continuing dioceses

July 7, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops went on record July 8 supporting the “unflagging efforts” of the four continuing dioceses which are rebuilding after a majority of their laity and clergy left the church over theological and policy disagreements.

The bishops resolved “that Episcopalians in the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and San Joaquin — lay and clergy — be commended for their unflagging efforts to continue to live as witnesses to the mission of The Episcopal Church during the recent years of difficulty as they rebuild mission and ministry as the continuing dioceses in that same spirit.”

The resolution also commends the leadership of Fort Worth Provisional Bishop Wallis Ohl, Diocese of Pittsburgh Provisional Bishop Kenneth Price, Diocese of Quincy Provisional Bishop John Buchanan, Diocese of San Joaquin Provisional Bishop Chester Talton and “especially the strong lay leadership of each diocese.”

The resolution is very similar to one passed by General Convention when it last met in 2009 in Anaheim, California.

Announcement of the “mind of the house” resolution came after the bishops spent most, if not all, of their private conversation time over the past three days discussing a request from Buchanan and Ohl that their colleagues “set the record on the polity of this church regarding its hierarchical character.”

Buchanan told Episcopal News Service after the resolution passed during private conversation that he “told the house I am grateful for the support and help the resolution provides, but it’s not what I asked for. I asked for clarification around the hierarchical character of our church.”

He later e-mailed ENS to say that “the House of Bishops spent nearly two and a half hours discussing this matter in productive and collegial conversation that worked toward reconciliation. The matter will continue to be discussed at future meetings of the House of Bishops.”

Ohl said that the resolution passed unanimously on a roll call vote and it “helps to clarify to the courts that these bishops are authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to serve in these dioceses and that the House of Bishops affirms it.”

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori read the resolution aloud “for the benefit of the gallery.”

After reading it, she said: “This was extensively discussed during our private session. We had a roll call vote that answered unanimously by the bishops present. Then we voted to offer that as a public statement, a public record.”

Buchanan and Ohl wrote to Jefferts Schori July 5 to make the request and the House of Bishops discussed their letter during closed sessions here July 6, 7 and 8.

In their letter Buchanan and Ohl detailed four ways in which they say nine bishops made false claims about the nature of Episcopal Church governance in two court filings concerning property litigation in Fort Worth and Quincy. They say those claims “aid and comfort breakaway factions” who want to cripple the church by taking title and control of the church’s real and personal property.

The two bishops told ENS July 6 that, in Buchanan’s words, they hoped for “a message to the world in general about our view of the polity of this church, and the reason that would be helpful is that the view of polity of this church that others have presented is, in my opinion, erroneous.”

Those court filings were also the subject of reports July 2 that two Title IV disciplinary complaints have been filed about five active bishops and four retired bishops.

One of the Title IV complaints concerns the fact that seven bishops endorsed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief prepared by the Anglican Communion Institute in the pending appeal of a court ruling involving the ownership of church property in Fort Worth. The brief objects to the trial court’s ruling that told the dissidents to return “all property, as well as control of the diocesan corporation” to the Episcopal leaders of the diocese.

The other complaint involves three bishops who signed affidavits opposing a motion for summary judgment made by representatives of the Diocese of Quincy and the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2011 to secure diocesan financial assets from a group that broke from the diocese in November 2008. One of the issues in that case, set for trial in April 2013, is the question of who are the legitimate officeholders of the diocese.

“I am most grateful for the resolution that identifies me as the bishop of the Diocese of Quincy,” Buchanan told ENS.

Ohl said that five of the bishops who signed an amicus brief in a Fort Worth property case were present for the vote July 8, as were two who signed the amicus brief for Quincy.

Meanwhile, eight of the bishops who signed the court filings wrote to their colleagues in the House of Bishops on July 6 saying they have “acted out of a profound loyalty to this church we love.” The letter was posted on various websites July 7.

The bishops said they knew their court actions “would be controversial.”

“We took these actions, however, precisely because we thought it our duty to do so in order to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church as we all have pledged to do,” they said.

Retired Bishop of Central Florida John W. Howe, Dallas Bishop Suffragan Paul E. Lambert, Bishop of Albany William H. Love, Bishop of Western Louisiana D. Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Springfield Daniel H. Martins, retired Bishop of Springfield Peter Beckwith, retired Bishop of South Carolina and dean of Nashotah House Edward L. Salmon and Bishop of Dallas James M. Stanton signed the letter. Retired Bishop of Texas Maurice Benitez is not attending convention and reportedly has not signed the letter.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service. The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.