December 5, 2012

Jumping the Gun?

There is a press report that the Presiding Bishop has accepted Mark Lawrence's renunciation of ministry in The Episcopal Church.

While I believe that Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, I do not think he has renounced his ministry, at least in the manner laid out by Canon III.12.7, which requires a written declaration to the Presiding Bishop expressing a “desire to be removed.”

I think that rather than jumping the gun, and taking actions and speeches as if they met the formal requirements of the Canon, the process of dealing with the abandonment should have been followed to the letter. Lawrence's November 17 speech — and other actions — obviously do not constitute "a good faith retraction" of those things that led to the charge of abandonment, which is what he could have done in the 60-day period to reverse course. But continuing on the same course does not transform abandonment into renunciation under either the letter or spirit of the law.

Haste is not our friend.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: An additional problem is that “renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church” — which constitutes abandonment under Title IV — is not the same thing as “renunciation of the Ordained Ministry” under Title III. I think it is clear that Lawrence has done the former, but it is not at all clear he has done the latter — in the form set out in the Canon, that is, by a written statement to that effect. There has been no canonically formal, “You can't fire me, I quit.”


Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...


I think the case is arguable. III.12.7 is for renunciation of "the ordained Ministry of this Church," and while I agree this is not the ordinary use of this canon, it doesn't strike me completely beyond the pale interpretation-wise or given the circumstances.

I cannot imagine Lawrence is about to argue the point -- what would it benefit him -- particularly as he has effectively renounced his orders in The Episcopal Church. Does this not make the de facto de jure without engaging the full abandonment process which he has, if you'll pardon the expression, already abandoned?

TJ McMahon said...

This is probably a first, but I do agree with you. I think, however, that the HoB made the mistake several years ago of establishing precedent for this sort of thing, by allowing the Presiding Bishop to use the same process to remove +Iker, +Ackerman, and even the CoE bishop Henry Scriven, none of whom wrote renunciation letters, from the ministry of TEC through the "renunciation" process rather than proceeding with charges of abandonment or canonical violation. Since the letter of the law (no pun intended) was not followed in any of these cases, but no one held the PB accountable, there is no reason to assume it would be followed in the present case.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Richard Edward, while I agree as to the practical effect, my concern is with the process, due and otherwise, and the appropriate actor to undertake it. The issue is that renunciation of ministry is intended, in the Canon, to be something done by the minister, clearly done, at that. Abandonment must also be very clear, and can be declared by the church's processes even over the objections of the one judged to have abandoned. So there is a qualitative as well as quantitative difference. And the point in Title IV is that abandonment of the church can only be transformed into renunciation of ministry by the action of the minister in question. Renunciation, by its very nature, cannot be "imposed."

TJM, we agree more than you think, as I concur with you on the earlier misuses of the canons. The notion that bishops departing to other provinces need to "renounce" is an utter novelty. Although the canons do not provide for "letters dimissory" for bishops (a notion foreign to the ancient canons, as bishops were held to be "wedded" to their diocese!) this was usually handled without resort to "renunciation."

The whole abandonment canon ought to be reworked to address these sorts of issues in a more rational manner.

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

Thanks, Dear Tobias, for the further elucidation. I am in agreement that it would be most helpful to rework the abandonment canons to more directly address these situations.

I see Mark Lawrence is now making me eat my words by claiming he's still bishop in SC (though in what Church, I wonder?) and calling the PB's actions "superfluous."

What is so deeply frustrating is how we undertake process when at least one principle actor has rejected the process outright from the start. For some reason, I am reminded of that Zen koan:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

I appreciate your reminder that what we truly have left to steward is the integrity of our own process.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

RE, that's why I would have advised sticking with what is laid out in Title IV, including the vote by the HoB. It is time-consuming, but it is also what the law seems to expect.

David Donnell said...

Richard Edward Helmer asks "... though in what Church, I wonder." I presume that the answer of the South Carolinians (Carolingians?) would be: the Church he was baptized into, confirmed in, and ordained in, at the request of the representatives of this Diocese: "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

As to which corporation, not-for-profit organization or other entity he may be "under" at this point, the answer appears to be none at all.

As far as I know, neither the Presiding Bishop nor General Convention has any power to "unbishop" him. They can inhibit and proscribe and forbid and scold, and even "accept" a renunciation that hasn't been made, but he remains a bishop and he remains in SC. So there we are ...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I don't particularly want to get into the debate as to the alleged indelibility of order, and the entanglement that exists between ministry and order. For what it's worth, this seems too close to quantum mechanics for me to wrestle with. What I do think is clear is that ministry "expresses" order, and if the expression is forbidden, I'm not entirely sure what continuing to "have" the order means, other than that upon reconciliation no re-ordination is required. So to have an "order" in the "one holy catholic church" without the capacity actually to exercise it in some real, visible church, not-for-profit or not, seems to be a bit like Burgess Merideth at the end of that Twilight Zone episode, with tons of books to read but no glasses.

In any case, the canon is about renunciation of "ministry" not "order." It is the exercise of ministry that was inhibited (and should have remained so, in my mind, until the provisions of the Canon were actually accomplished, including the possibility of restoration.

But the die appears to have been cast, and only purists such as myself seem at all concerned that the procedure was irregular and needlessly hasty.

David Donnell said...

Alas, "irregular and needlessly hasty" has become the order of the day, it seems.

I wonder why we put so much effort into fiddling with the canons when there seems to be a tacit agreement to ignore them (on national, diocesan and local levels) whenever it suits our fancy. (I don't actually mean "we" and "our," but you get the idea!)

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...


I was not simply being snarky. All ordained clergy are given license or authority to carry out their ministries, and whatever branch of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church they belong to affords them license and provides a level accountability. Departing that accountability in an orderly way -- even according to the church one might be leaving! -- strikes me as a matter obedience undertaken in the vows of ordination.

This is not about the indelibility of ordination, but the remarkable arrogance of a bishop effectively becoming an authority unto himself. If Tobias will forgive me for echoing him, it starts to feel very much like l'eglise c'est moi to me. It is even more definitely not catholic!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

David, I regard it as part of the pathology of "our" church that we spend so much time tinkering with canons and then fail to employ them. TEC is not alone in this, though we give it our own cast; for the RCs it is an overemphasis on "authority" and then an utter failure to employ it in cases where it ought evidently to have been applied!

RE, I think the reason to stick with "abandonment" is that it accurately reflects what ML has done: he did not (as far as I can see) actually commit an Offense or violate any Canon. What he did was to reject the whole polity of The Episcopal Church, advancing and implementing strange notions of "sovereignty" and episcopal authority that would be the envy of a Czarist autocrat; all the while with an "ever so 'umble" affect. It is the wholesale rejection of the authority of General Convention and the Canons that lie at the root of the problem -- as the citation for abandonment noted. To treat this as "renunciation of ministry" utterly confuses the issue.

Brother David said...

So you guys believe that you all understand the canons, the due process, as well as the actions of Lawrence and the leadership of Dio SC better than the dozen or so bishops who advised the PB to take the action which she took? We are talking about what appears to be the unanimous advice of almost all the presidents of the provinces of TEC.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Bro David, yes.

This would not be the first time a committee had made an error.

Paul Powers said...

It's a misuse of the canons of the renunciation canon, but the precedent was set in 2008 when the Presiding Bishop used it with Bishop Iker (and with several other bishops, but none of them were ordinaries).

The biggest problem, as I see it, is the lack of due process. There is no opportunity to present a defense, no opportunity to plead one's case to an ecclesiastical court or even to one's fellow bishops.

Of course, Bishop Iker was not really harmed by this action, nor will Bishop Lawrence be. Bishop Iker continues to be bishop of a Diocese of Fort Worth, and Bishop Lawrence will continue to be Bishop of a Diocese of South Carolina. Which Diocese of Fort Worth and which Diocese of South Carolina is a continuation of the original diocese is a matter of debate. Which diocese will get the property is up to the courts (absent a settlement).

The real harm is to TEC itself. +Katharine Jefferts Schori won't be PB forever. Those who support her actions this time won't be able to complain if a future PB uses the canon to get rid of a bishop they like.

By the way, the new version of the renunciation canon (it's called something else makes it clear that it applies only to the exercise of ordained ministry in TEC.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Paul. That is my feeling precisely. "Renunciation" has to be something bout which there is no "interpretation" needed -- a clear action requesting "release" from the responsibilities of the ministry. No trial is needed because it is a clear declaration. Abandonment can be charged, and contested, and there is opportunity for a hearing -- which should have taken place in this case, as that's how it started.

Bro David, it occurred to me that From a legal standpoint, the crucial distinction between abandonment and renunciation has to do with form and intent. In a way, it is like the difference between cohabitation and marriage, or manslaughter and murder. Some may see these as subtle distinctions, but that is why there are two separate canons.

Our tradition warns us of the actions of another religious body that chose to do what was 'expedient' in dealing with one supposedly for the sake of the many.