March 28, 2005

A Memorable Daydream

I had a troubling daydream the other day.

In this daydream Diocese X chooses to have an election and call for consents that would fall due prior to the next General Convention. A majority of the bishops with jurisdiction abide by their covenant and do not consent to the election. The leaders of X accuse the bishops of inconsistency, in that some of the bishops stated they consented to the election of Bishop Robinson not because of their personal approval of him, but as a recognition that the proper forms had been observed — and they have just chosen not to follow the form in the case of the election in Diocese X.

In reflection on this daydream, I realized the following:

1) No covenant was in place for the bishops to violate in the case of Bishop Robinson, where they were free to consent or withhold consent as they saw fit. They are technically “free” in the case of Diocese X, apart from the non-binding covenant; but one would hope that they would stand by their word.

2) To chastize the bishops for not consenting as a matter of form in this case is for the leaders of X to take the position that that is all the bishops’ consent amounts to; which hardly makes their point, as the leaders of X protested this same form of argument in the case of Robinson. They would be inconsistent with themselves in calling for this consistency in others.

3) The bishops would be acting in accord with the canon, covenant or no. The consent process is not an election in which the bishops vote for or against the candidate (although it is often seen that way). Close reading of the canon indicates that this is a consent process, and the withholding of consent (which any bishop is empowered to do at any time) is in the nature of a pocket-veto rather than a No vote.

For Diocese X to ignore the bishops’ covenant and proceed with an election in this way could only be a Pyrrhic victory, or perhaps a Parthian shot.

I raise this latter as a further fear arose in my mind, that Diocese X might then ignore the canonical finding of the Presiding Bishop that the election is null, and seek the consecration of their elected candidate at the hands of some others of the domestic or foreign episcopate, on their way out of the Episcopal Church.

I earnestly hope this fantasy does not become a reality.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that this daydream is only that. Suppose that Diocese X holds an election. What do they gain by doing so and having the bishops fail to consent? They get to say "you're being inconsistent?" Well, they already say that. And the situations are so obviously different, that there is no additional credibility to saying that.

Would they proceed to seek a non-canonical ordination of such a candidate? We have what we are already facing as a prospect in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth: the outright attempted secession of a diocese from the Episcopal Church.

Would they try that? Perhaps. The people who have been doing this stuff have already been breaking key canons whose purpose is to regulate disputes. A certain fat man who speaks a lot in the name of Diocese X is very fond of making up new rules, claiming nobody else is following them, and then saying this legitimizes his folk from following the rules which are not new, but out there on paper in black and white.

So if Diocese X provokes things in this way, it isolates them. (Notice that Diocese X, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth are the only ones in any danger of secession; other places like Albany and San Joaquin and SW Florida and Dallas are certainly not.)

Moreover, outright secession forces them to lose, because they immediately and instantly lose all power and influence in the Episcopal Church. This is why these folks, including the fat spokesman for diocese X, make lots of blustery threats, but cannot carry through on them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I agree that there is nothing to be "gained" in this possible action, other than the buildup of emotional steam to provoke further angry partisanship. I've seen that pattern before, as when ESA departed from the Episcopal Church in the early 90s. The partisan goal is supercession of the Episcopal Church, not influence over it; they believe this is what is going to happen when their new church is recognized as the legitimate voice of Anglicanism in North America. The agenda has been laid out; we can only await the sad denouement.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I fear you may be correct, Simeon. This is all the more ironic given the sexual orientation of a former bishop of Dallas. I have it on good authority (an elderly retired priest who served in Dallas many years ago) who told me half a decade ago that back in his salad days it was common knowledge among the clergy of like orientation, and that the diocese became rather a safe harbor. I have no idea, by the way, which bishop this retired priest referred to, but share his bemusement at how things have changed.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Br. Thomas has no particular inside information, just the best guess I can make from the available information.

My guess is not that the bishop won't try, just that there is little chance of it actually happening. But that doesn't make the risk ignorable and is surely cold comfort to those tasked with struggling in those places.