Bishops looking at draft on providing "episcopal pastoral care" for dissidents

November 19, 2003

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold has sent a draft of guidelines for providing "Supplemental Episcopal Pastoral Care" to the bishops of the church, outlining a plan for dissidents who find it difficult to accept the leadership of their diocesan bishops.

In an October 31 cover letter to the five-page draft, Griswold said that it built on work done when the bishops met at Camp Allen in Texas in March 2002. The current draft "is the work of the Committee for Pastoral Development of the House of Bishops and my Council of Advice," he wrote. "It is presented to you for your consideration, and where appropriate, immediate use, to deal with situations that might arise in your diocese."

He added, "It is my hope that this plan will meet the needs of the present moment and also answer the concerns that have been expressed regarding episcopal pastoral care for those whose consciences are seriously strained by formal actions of our church." The bishops "will have an opportunity to take counsel together and to make modifications and adjustments based on our experience," he said.

The plan acknowledges that diversity may bring tension and "may require extending our charity with one another in new directions and through creative forms of care and understanding... While we know that our unity is strained, we will continue to strive for godly union and concord." It calls on bishops "to provide for pastoral care of those who are in distress," especially in situations where there are differences between the diocesan bishop and some congregations. "At all times, however, we must recognize the constitutional and canonical authority of bishops and geographic integrity of diocesan boundaries," it added.

The spirit of charity

The draft reminded the bishops that they had produced a "document of agreement and procedure" at the March 2002 meeting, a "Covenant on Episcopal Pastoral Care," that declared the church's constitution and canons "are sufficient for dealing with questions of episcopal oversight, supplemental episcopal pastoral care, and disputes that may arise between the bishop and congregations. We encourage that their provisions be used wisely and in the spirit of charity."

Among the steps suggested in the new draft, it calls on clergy and lay leaders to consult with the congregation and then approach the diocesan bishop to consult whether supplemental pastoral care was appropriate. If that doesn't work, the parties involved "may approach the provincial bishop of this church serving on the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice for help in seeking a resolution."

After review, the provincial bishop "shall request two other bishops of this church representative of the divergent views of that province to join with the provincial bishop to review the situation, to consider the request, and to make recommendations to all parties."

According to the plan, the bishops will discuss the circumstances that would require an alternate, who could provide such care, whether training should be provided for those bishops and who pays the costs.

The American Anglican Council (AAC) has already rejected the plan as "inadequate." In a November 14 letter, AAC president David Anderson reported that "Bishop Duncan [Pittsburgh] and I have just returned from a meeting in New York with Presiding Bishop Griswold. The conversation was certainly civil, but it was also very blunt. We laid out the picture as we see it, and we made our and your needs crystal clear. The Chancellor, David Booth Beers, made it clear that the canons make no provision for bypassing the local bishop's authority. I made it clear that any plan that did not have an over-ride over the local bishop if he/she was non-cooperative simply was inadequate," Anderson said.