February 14, 2010

On Consents: Conscience, Consequences and Canons

The consent process for the ordination and consecration of Mary Glasspool is well under way, and the score-keepers and handicappers are hard at work. As we all realize, consents to episcopal elections are not a trivial matter; but then, they never were, as a reading of the first decades of the church's history reveals. Even in those simpler times there were a number of priests elected who failed to garner the necessary consent to their episcopate.

No one would say we live in simpler times, and some of the complexity is due to conscience. In Glasspool's case, there will be people (bishops with jurisdiction and members of standing committees) whose conscience will insist she must be ordained; and there will equally be others who in conscience will cast a negative (or withhold a positive) vote on the grounds of her partnered status, or even on the grounds of her sex. (There are still those who believe that a woman not only should not, but cannot be a bishop, and their belief will inform their vote.)

Still others will be swayed by concern over consequences. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself has alluded to that reality; and certainly it is no great prognostication that consent, or failure of consent, will indeed have consequences of one sort or another.

Others yet will take the course of reading the text of what they are signing, which, at least as far as standing committees goes, attests that they "know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not be ordained..." and consent on the basis of their agnosticism, or deny consent on the basis of knowing of some such impediment. (Obviously those who do not believe a woman can be a bishop would hold her sex to be such an impediment; though this is not the current teaching of the church, and thus not a canonical, but a conscientious impediment, as noted above. A canonical impediment, apart from matters of age, having filed the proper paperwork, and so on, would include having done something that would be cause for deposition if proven, under the disciplinary canons.)

Whatever happens, people are watching and keeping count. One hundred twenty days seems like a long time in our electronic age, but it may well run its full course in this case. My suspicion is that we may see some exercise of the "pocket veto" — some lukewarm bishops or standing committees simply not getting around to registering their vote, which will count as a "no" since an absolute majority is needed in both categories. So, if consent fails, they will be able to say, "We didn't vote against her," while if she is confirmed, will be able to say, "We didn't vote for her." It will be interesting to see, come early May, how many voices are silent at the deadline.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Erika Baker said...

If an abstention counts as a no-vote, then presumably, abstaining Bishops will not be able to say that they did not vote against her.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, my point is that an abstention has the effect of a no without actually being one. Remember, we are dealing with some squirrel-minded bishops in this case -- would they had the courage of conviction to let their Yes be Yes and their No, No.

Another factor, which I did not mention, is the "bring it on" faction of the far right, who may vote Yes in the hopes that confirmation will hasten the Armageddon for which they long. It has been said that this happened in the election of +KJS, but I do not know of a certainty it is true.

Erika Baker said...

But an abstention that is officially counted as a No cannot be seen as anything other than a covert No, so there's no weasling-advantage achieved by not voting. Or am I misunderstanding this?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

It is a bit confusing, and I may not have made it clearer! The point is this is not a "vote" per se, but rather the collection of a sufficient number of consents -- a majority of all bishops with jurisdiction, and a majority of all standing committees must "consent." A formal "withholding of consent" is expected, but only the consents are actually counted -- and an absolute majority is needed of both the bishops and the committees -- and by a date certain. In this way the weasels can do as I describe, getting their responses in late or not at all, and so engaging in the time-honored rite of simultaneous cake-possession and consumption.

When the consents are given at General Convention it is far more difficult to play the weasel game, as the consent is given or withheld in the respective houses of bishops or deputies, and often in these contentious days a roll call or vote by orders is requested. The House of Deputies Rules of Order (Rule 40) do not allow for abstention -- every Deputy must vote on any and every matter before the House.

Hope this clarifies the muddy waters of Episcopal Polity!

Brother David said...

The Diocese of Los Angeles is collecting the consents from Standing Committees, but the Presiding Bishop is receiving the consents from the bishops. Will they actually reveal who consented?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dahveed, yes, that is the process. I don't believe there is any requirement to reveal who gave consent. Those who are keeping track now are basing their tracking on statements from the parties themselves, I think. I believe LA has made comment about the number, but not the sources, of the standing committee consents.