A 3-member Reference Panel led by U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has found that a prima facie case of misconduct can be made against nine serving and retired bishops of the Episcopal Church for voicing public disagreement with her view of church polity.
Bishops Peter Beckwith, Maurice Benitez, John W. Howe, Paul Lambert, William Love, Bruce MacPherson, Daniel Martins, Edward L. Salmon, Jr, and James Stanton were told on 19 Oct 2012 a reference panel consisting of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, her aide Bishop Clayton Matthews, and the retired Bishop of Upper South Carolina and chair of the church’s disciplinary board Dorsey Henderson had found there was merit in the charges brought against them for having dissented from her view of the nature of the church’s hierarchy by testifying in court or having submitted an amicus brief to a court.
The Reference Panel recommended the accused bishops pursue “conciliation” with their accusers. Conciliation is not defined, however, in the canons.
In his email to the accused informing them of the panel’s decision, Bishop Matthews said that “after obtaining the agreement of the complainants, we will include in the process some representatives from the House of Bishops, in the spirit of our closed sessions, appointed by The Presiding Bishop. After some research for potential persons to serve as a Conciliator, I will meet on October 29th with the person, who we hope will serve as the Conciliator. I hope following this meeting, a schedule for proceeding will be forth coming.”
Under the Title IV disciplinary canons adopted in 2009, an intake officer must first determine if the offense described in the complaint warrants action. As intake officer for the House of Bishops, Bishop Matthews held that held that having endorsed an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme court that defends one view of Episcopal Church history and canon law, or in the case of Bishops Beckwith, MacPherson and Salmon, for having testified to their views of church polity in a case involving the secession of the Diocese of Quincy, the nine bisohps violated the canons.
Bishop Matthews then referred his findings to the panel, of which he is one of three members, and which was led by the presiding bishop whose views on church polity were the subject of the dispute, for determination of guilt.
Canon lawyer Allan Haley said the system adopted by the Episcopal Church to try political dissent was absurd. “No man shall be judge of his own cause is a maxim of law from the time of Solomon,” he said. In this case the presiding bishop and her staff are the investigators, prosecutor, judge and jury.
This “reeks of the kangaroo courts of rough justice of the mining claim” of the old West, he said.
One of the nine accused told CEN he has yet to be told what it was about his actions that violated the canons. Is it the “issue” or “expressing the issue in court” he said.
If it is the issue, the bishop noted the position set forth in their brief was identical to that put forward in 2009 in the Bishops Statement on Polity. If it was stating this belief in court, “what is illegitimate about that,” he asked.
Canon law experts note the prosecution of the nine bishops was politically motivated, as the actions for which they are accused are not considered “triable” when done by bishops who endorsed the party line.
Canon IV.19.of Title IV states: “No member of the Church, whether lay or ordained, may seek to have the Constitution and Canons of the Church interpreted by a secular court, or resort to a secular court to address a dispute arising under the Constitution and Canons, or for any purpose of delay, hindrance, review or otherwise affecting any proceeding under this Title.”
If the nine are being charged with violating this canon, the question need be asked why the Bishops of Texas, Southwest Texas, Northwest Texas and the Rio Grande have not been brought up on charges also, one bishop told CEN.
In the case of Masterson, et al. v. Diocese of Northwest Texas, No. 11-0332, the Rt Rev. Andrew Doyle, the Rt. Rev. Garry Lillebridge, the Rt. Rev. Michael Vono and the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, Jr., filed an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court that endorsed the three-tier hierarchy concept favored by attorneys for the presiding bishop’s office.
One commentator asked “why it is OK for some bishops or dioceses and TEC itself to seek to have the courts interpret the C&Cs, but when others specifically advise the courts that they cannot get embroiled in these issues, it is a canonical offense.”