Conservative responses mixed on Camp Allen oversight plan

March 25, 2004

Conservative and traditionalist reactions to the House of Bishops’ Camp Allen plan for delegated episcopal pastoral oversight of dissenting congregations range from a promise to live within its spirit to a declaration that “the plan is inadequate and should be ignored.”

Bishops Robert Duncan and Henry Scriven of Pittsburgh posted a message to their diocese’s website on March 23, describing the meeting of the House as "difficult and forthright. There were many discussions about brokenness within the body and about putting the body back together."

The plan requires "tremendous generosity and charity on the part of the bishops and an extraordinary new level of trust on the part of the people and clergy," said Duncan, promising that “generosity and charity will characterize our local response.”

"We will do what we can to enable the plan’s success in the wider church. I am deeply concerned that we are able to offer Adequate Episcopal Oversight as the Primates understand it. The question is whether there is the will in the Episcopal Church to make this plan into that," Duncan added.

Accusations of ‘theological incompetence’

But a less irenic stance came from the five retired bishops who crossed diocesan boundaries without permission to confirm 110 individuals during a celebration of the Eucharist in Akron, Ohio on March 14.

The statement, released to the media by the American Anglican Council’s communications director, referred to the House of Bishops’ statement regarding the Ohio confirmations as a “censure” and declared it to be part of a “long retreat from its sworn responsibilities concerning the Christian faith, from the time of Bishop James Pike to Bishop John Spong’s ‘12 Theses [sic]’, to its present failure to support faithful Episcopalians in unfaithful dioceses.”

“The House of Bishops is willing to censure and threaten five bishops crossing diocesan lines to support faithful Episcopalians,” the statement said. “At the same time they are unwilling to censure or even dissociate themselves from denials of the faith among themselves…The most generous interpretation of this failure to fulfill Episcopal responsibility regarding the faith, as this church has received it, is to assume a theological incompetence on the part of the House of Bishops who cannot tell the difference between heretical teaching and the Nicene Creed.” The statement was signed by bishops FitzSimons Allison, Maurice Benitez, William Cox, Alex Dickson, and William Wantland.

Reached by phone, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said that the House of Bishops “carefully avoided the term ‘censure,’ because it has a quasi-legal meaning that is contrary to the measured response they made in the spirit of reconciliation.”

‘Non-binding mediation’

An unsigned release from the American Anglican Council on March 24 declared the Camp Allen plan “undeniably and woefully inadequate.”

“ ‘Adequate’ oversight must be determined by those who are seeking it,” the statement declared. “The plan is designed to be viable only where it is unnecessary, that is, in the few dioceses where bishops agree to AEO [adequate episcopal oversight]…We stand in solidarity with those in beleaguered dioceses, and we pledge our support of senior bishops who courageously and compassionately seek to minister to those in need of adequate episcopal oversight.”

In an attached analysis--again unsigned--the AAC release referred to the Camp Allen plan as “non-binding mediation” instead of “structural and jurisdictional relief” for dissenting minorities. (In the Episcopal Church, the House of Bishops acting alone is not empowered to change canons regulating the church’s structure and their own jurisdiction. Such changes would have to be made with the consent of the clergy and laity in the House of Deputies during the triennial General Convention, which meets in 2006.)

“Everything in the document is, effectively, a ‘whereas’ clause. There is no ‘resolve’; there is no operative language,” the AAC analysis said. “Indeed, the central provision offering non-binding mediation by a panel of bishops is qualified and merely an aspiration… There is no moral authority, much less real accountability, brought to bear on a recalcitrant diocesan bishop who refuses to enter into that process or honor its result.”

‘A broken ladder’

More blistering criticism came from the Rev. David L. Moyer, president of Forward in Faith/North America (FiF/NA), an organization originally established to oppose the ordination of women as priests and bishops.

“We have a church (or as Father Sam Edwards would say, an ‘unchurch’) that has been declared to be in rebellion, disobedient to the whole counsel of God, by the vast majority of baptized members of the Anglican Communion, as well as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Although the bishops say that the church is ‘to be a trustworthy sign to the world of this costly reconciling power of God,’ they mean that the orthodox must be ‘reconciled’ to the agenda of ECUSA,” said Moyer. (Edwards, the former executive director of FiF/NA, resigned from the Episcopal Church following a protracted controversy with now-retired Bishop Jane Dixon of Washington over his call as rector of a parish in Accokeek, Maryland.)

The Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, executive director of Anglicans United (formerly Episcopalians United for Revelation, Renewal, and Reformation), called the plan “seriously flawed… The Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear, that the aggrieved party has the right to determine what constitutes adequate oversight, not the adjudicating bishop.”

“We must wait for the October decision of the Eames Commission and the next Primate’s [sic] meeting. Only then will the orthodox in ECUSA know if there is any hope for this sinking ship,” Wetzel concluded.

The Rev. David H. Roseberry, rector of Christ Church in Plano [, Texas, and a leading figure in the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes founded at his parish at a meeting in January, called the Camp Allen plan “a broken ladder—it only looks useful, but it can’t take you anywhere... The plan is inadequate and should be ignored…[it is] so inadequate and procedure-laden as to be just plain silly.”

Roseberry complained that under the plan “it could take two to three years to get a bishop to come for confirmations! It is an imposition, literally, of an elaborate and tortuous process intentionally designed to wear ‘dissident’ churches down.” (According to canon III.24.4(a), “each Diocesan Bishop shall visit the Congregations within the Diocese at least once in three years. Interim visits may be delegated to another Bishop of this Church.”)

“This tragically broken ladder may actually convince the Anglican Communion that ECUSA needs a major repair or replacement,” Roseberry concluded. “Sadly but firmly, we have nothing to do with ECUSA. We send no money to the national church. We receive no direction from the national church. For the time being, we labor alongside our bishop to build the Network in order to maintain our relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion. And we stand.”

Related Topics: