It seems to me we need greater precision on exactly what “communion” is before we can legitimately talk about people “abandoning” it. Canon IV.10 offers only the barest help: one abandons communion “by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or by a formal admission into any religious body not in communion with this Church,” and then adds unhelpfully “or in any other way...” which opens a Pandora’s box of litigious possibilities.
It seems at present that the criterion for determining abandonment of communion is a bit like Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography, “I’ll know it when I see it.” When the penalty for abandonment is as serious as deposition, should there not be a clearer definition, at least, somewhere enshrined in the law? The new Title IV, with its pages of definitions, doesn’t touch on either communion or abandon. Also undefined is renunciation. We know (or think we know) what it means when a priest “renounces the ministry” — but just what does it mean to renounce the Doctrine, Disciple or Worship of this Church? Is renunciation the same as denunciation? How harsh does a critique have to be before renunciation is involved? Or does the renunciation only become a formal renunciation when it declares itself explicitly as such — rather like papal infallibility?
At present the confusion is exacerbated by people tossing around terms like “broken” or “impaired” communion, and declaring themselves in one state or the other. Is the Anglican Church of Rwanda a “religious body not in communion with this Church”? Legally speaking? This also affects letters dimissory, doesn’t it? And what is “formal admission” — what about an Episcopal cleric who is also a member of the Ethical Culture Society — or the Society of Friends? (I think there was a bishop from the Antipodes who was also a registered Quaker, but my memory may be faulty on that.) Some years prior to my ordination I was a dues-paying member of the Roman Catholic National Assembly of Religious Brothers: would that constitute “formal admission” or “a religious body”?
In the meantime, I will continue to pray for all in the current dispute in Connecticut, and hope that perhaps some greater clarity in terms of the nature of the charge can be worked into Title IV. I am glad to see that the proposed revision puts this charge on an equal footing with all of the other things clergy are supposed to “refrain from” — meaning a uniform mechanism for response to the charge, and a capacity for trial and appeal. Short of clarity or due process (which is IMHO very much lacking in this present Canon), I would suggest the excision of this troublesome category altogether.