Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Bishop Reflects on +Duncan's Deposition

From the blog of +Pierre Whalon, Bishop of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe:

Bishop Robert Duncan was deposed for abandonment of the communion of this Church, under Canon IV.9. This followed a process begun by some clergy and laypeople of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. While he himself demanded a church trial in an open letter to the bishops, the only canonical basis for action by the Presiding Bishop and House of Bishops is the presentment itself.

The House of Bishops, in other words, could act only on what the complainants from Pittsburgh put before us, including the canonical frame of their charges. Neither the Presiding Bishop nor Review Committee, nor the House itself, could change it. A trial would certainly have been more damaging for the defendant, in any event.

It is easy to derail the Canon IV.9 process by denying that one has indeed left the Episcopal Church. Bishop Duncan did not do so. Nor did he attend the meeting. Less than five minutes after the vote to depose him, the Diocese website announced that he had been received into the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of the Americas.

My own understanding of the canons that I followed with a priest of the Convocation who claimed to be received in another province--while continuing to want to minister in Europe for that province and against us--is that one can only be legally transferred to another province of the Communion by moving there. As Bishop Duncan wished not only to join the Southern Cone province but also took active steps to remove the diocese with him, he clearly had done what the presenters charged.

The House upheld the rulings of the Presiding Bishop, her Chancellor, and the House Parliamentarian, that the canons were appropriately and correctly applied.

The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, did a flawless job of chairing the meeting. She warned us not to indulge in vindictiveness. As she has done before, she also admonished us not to abandon those bishops who have been deposed. They are still connected to us in a real way, by baptism to begin with. Bishop Katharine also saw to it that when two retiring bishops were feted later that evening, that time was given for people to remember Bishop Duncan in positive ways.

As for me, I discovered with great joy the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Way of Christianity thirty years ago in Pittsburgh. I was received into the Church by Bishop Austin Pardue, one of our great bishops of the last century, and made a postulant for Holy Orders by Bishop Bob Appleyard, another giant whom I eventually succeeded as Bishop in charge. I was ordained deacon and priest by Bishop Appleyard's successor, Alden Hathaway, and served my first cure as rector of All Souls Church in that diocese.

Over the years, I have watched the once-great diocese become a shadow of its former self under Bishop Duncan's leadership. His clear schismatical intent to break up our church, as well as what I perceived as egocentric ambition to become its savior, also generated in me a great deal of anger toward the man. I took his actions even more personally, perhaps, because of my deep commitment to the diocese as the people who brought me out of a spiritual desert into a way of being Christian in which I have been able to follow Jesus.

As I considered how to vote on his deposition, I realized that for the good of my own soul, I should abstain. It seemed clear that he would be deposed, and I fully concur with that decision.

Had my vote been a tie-breaker, I would have changed it to a yes. However, in my heart I felt the temptation to use my vote as a way of getting even with the man. Abstaining seemed the healthier way.

This may seem precious to some. Perhaps they are right. But it is how I saw the matter at the time.

Yours in Christ,

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