Reference panel recommends conciliation with 9 bishops

By ENS staff
Posted Oct 25, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal Church reference panel has apparently recommended seeking “conciliation” with nine bishops (five active and four retired) after two complaints were filed earlier this year about their involvement in property litigation in two dioceses.

According to information circulating on some blogs, the reference panel unanimously decided that the complaints would proceed with conciliation pursuant to Canon IV.10 of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons.

Conciliation, according to the canon, calls for seeking a resolution “which promotes healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among the complainant, respondent, affected community, other persons and the church.”

A conciliator will be appointed to assist in the process towards reconciliation. That person, according to the canon, should be skilled in dispute resolution techniques and without conflict of interest in the matter.

“If conciliation cannot be achieved within a reasonable time, the matter will be referred back to the reference panel,” the canon states.

Episcopal Church Public Affairs Officer Neva Rae Fox told ENS that the information about the reference panel’s recommendation is based on private letters that Bishop Clay Matthews, who heads the church’s Office of Pastoral Development, sent to the nine bishops.

“As with similar letters, they are considered private and, therefore, we will not be making them public,” she said.

Matthews also serves as the “intake officer,” the person designated to receive complaints alleging offense and refer them for further action or investigation if necessary. Matthews was appointed to that role by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

The complaints against the nine bishops surfaced in June.

In one instance, the complaint concerns the fact that seven bishops endorsed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief prepared by the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. in the pending appeal of a court ruling involving the Diocese of Fort Worth and the bishop, clergy and laity who broke away from that diocese in November 2008.

The brief objects to the trial court’s ruling that told the dissidents to return “all property, as well as control of the diocesan corporation” to the Episcopal leaders of the diocese.

Those named in the Fort Worth complaint are retired Diocese of Texas Bishop Maurice M. Benitez, retired Diocese of Central Florida Bishop John W. Howe, Diocese of Dallas Bishop Suffragan Paul E. Lambert, Diocese of Albany Bishop William H. Love, Diocese of Western Louisiana Bishop D. Bruce MacPherson, Diocese of Springfield Bishop Daniel H. Martins, and Diocese of Dallas Bishop James M. Stanton.

MacPherson is also named in the other complaint, along with retired Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Jr. and retired Diocese of Springfield Bishop Peter H. Beckwith. Matthews e-mailed them to say that a complaint has been received against them because they signed affidavits opposing to a motion for summary judgment made by representatives of the Diocese of Quincy and the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2011 to secure diocesan financial assets from a group that broke from the diocese in November 2008.

The motion for summary judgment in that case was rejected in December 2011 and the case is due to go to trial in April 2013.

As per canons, the reference panel is composed of the intake officer, the presiding bishop and the president of the Disciplinary Board of the House of Bishops (IV.2). The reference panel is charged with the duty of reviewing information to determine how to refer the matter (IV. 6.sec. (8)). The referral options are (a) no action is required other than appropriate pastoral response pursuant to Canon IV.8; (b) conciliation pursuant to IV.10; (c) investigation pursuant to IV.11; or referral for possible agreement regarding terms of discipline pursuant to IV.9.

Comments (23)

  1. Thomas Andrew says:

    Once again the Episcopal Church fails to demonstrate that it is not a clownish farce.

    1. No, once again, The Episcopal Church demonstrates that it expects bishops to keep their ordination vows.

      1. David Yarbrough says:

        The ordinary for a Bishop includes faithfulness to the discipline and doctrine of the Church but does NOT include unconditional acquiescence to the Presiding Bishop, who is merely primus inter pares (if even that).

        These Bishops are under fire for expressing personal opinion on an issue before civil courts – where the Bible says disputes between Christians should NEVER have been taken in the first place.

        1. Tom Downs says:

          Discipline includes canon laws. They did not simply hold differing views, they interferred in a court case in which the Episcopal Church was a party…against the official legal position of this church. They have been accused. Conciliation is an attempt to reach some reconcilation and avoid bringing them to trial in an ecclesiastical court.

          1. A. S. Haley says:

            Tom Downs, “discipline” most certainly includes obedience to canon law, but you will search the canons in vain to find any provision that allows the Presiding Bishop, or anyone else in the Church, to speak by themselves what you call “the official legal position of this church” in secular courts. General Convention has no authority to interpret the Constitution and Canons, and the Presiding Bishop has still less. Moreover, Canon IV.19.2 prohibits any member of the Church, “whether lay or ordained,” from seeking “to have the Constitution and Canons of the Church interpreted by a secular court,” or to “resort to a secular court to address a dispute arising under the Constituttion and Canons …”.

            So why does the Presiding Bishop get to speak her views of the Constitution and Canons in court, but not other bishops in the Church? The truth is that the Presiding Bishop is making up that so-called “official position” out of whole cloth, and is letting her own personal Chancellor run wild with litigation — all to his personal benefit.

            This is a disgrace which would not be tolerated in any public corporation or charity — so why should we Episcopalians accept it in our own Church?

        2. ClayOla Gitane says:

          Actually, “expressing personal opinion on an issue” is exactly what this is not. In both complaints, the bishops charged entered into legal action against those in the Episcopal Church. When they were merely expressing their opinions–as they have done, for years–they were within their rights. For any bishop to participate in legal action against the church violates their ordination vows and cannot go unchallenged.

        3. Daniel Berry, NYC says:

          where does the bible say that about disputes? I believe the Gospel of Matthew even provides a methodology for resolving disputes. See chapter 18.

  2. Owanah Anderson says:

    Aye, to Bishop Epting. As a lay person who lost her home parish near four years ago due to greed of dissidents, I would expect all bishops to either uphold the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church or to quietly depart – without attempting to take the property – as did Jeffrey N. Steenson.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      Ms. Anderson, your pain speaks to the unnecessary collateral damage caused by this entire process. While I’m sorry for your pain, I note that the Episcopal Church has, in large measure, left the so-called “dissidents” rather than the other way around, and the “greed” you mention isn’t limited to the “dissidents”.

      If over 90% of a parish votes to leave, being forced to leave the property and endowments behind is a hardship to them, as well as to the remnant who are forced to maintain buildings and ministries beyond the capability of the smaller group – in both cases working against the ability to continue and grow the ministries which are the reason for the Church in the first place. While there have been exceptions in which the remnant grew sufficiently to stay viable, this is far from universal.

      The Presbyterian Church USA is taking a more enlightened and conciliatory approach, working toward offering conservative congregations the opportunity to leave PCUSA and join other Presbyterian denominations more in line with their theology, and doing so in a structured way, “decently and in order”. Perhaps it’s time for ECUSA to evaluate this possibility.

      1. Daniel Berry, NYC says:

        As far as I can remember, the New Testament gives one job description for the church, verbalized by Paul: “We have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation.”

        You can certainly call that clownish if you like

      2. Daniel Berry, NYC says:

        Mr Yarborough, according to Presbyterian polity, officers of the Presbyterian church have no claim on the property of an individual congregation. Things don’t shake down in quite that way in the polity of TEC.

  3. Fr. Michael Neal says:

    I expect the Episcopal Church to demonstrate truthfulness……….not a kangaroo court…………

  4. thomas mauro says:

    it seems some would prefer we break out the dueling pistols rather than make any attempt to reconcile. come ON, folks!

  5. Moputo Jones says:

    This is not between Bp. Lawrence and the Presiding Bishop. This issue is between Bp. Lawrence and the members of his own diocese that brought a complaint against him.

  6. John Neir says:

    The Presiding Bishop did what she is supposed to do…uphold the Canons of the Church.

  7. Christopher Cleveland says:

    Too little, too late. TEC is a heterodox institution of religion that eats her own. Shame!

  8. Michael Smith says:

    Moputo Jones,

    Twelve (12) communicants, who represent less than 300 communicants out of 29,000 communicants in the Diocese of SC, brought these charges against Bishop Lawrence. Those three hundred are .01 % of the total members of the Diocese of SC. What does that percentage tell you about Bishop Lawrence? It tells me that 99.99 percent of the Diocese of SC supports Bishop Lawrence. I would say that one tenth of one percent does not constitute a diocese that is unhappy with their Bishop, but the exact opposite.

  9. David Harvin says:

    This has nothing to do with Bishop Lawrence. However, making a disciplinary matter out of a difference of opinion about legal matters–however wrong they may be– is ridiculous. I doubt seriously that ordination deprives one of their First Amendment rights to express their opinions about matters in the secular courts. These complaints should have been dismissed on their face. And that is true even though ECUSA and the respective dioceses should win the cases in question.

  10. Michael Richard says:

    Sadly, the President Bishop is “damned” if she does, or if she doesn’t, by certain individuals….

  11. John Kirk says:

    Dear Bishop Benitez! He confirmed me twenty-eight years ago at Saint Alban’s, Waco. He’s a grand old man. May God give him and the other nine bishops every grace needed to stand firm against the patent silliness that’s swirling about them. They aren’t the ones in need of reconciliation.

  12. John Kelly says:

    Take what ever position you want, but I find it sad that the only time the Episcopal Church makes it into the paper is when we squabble. Our behavior mocks the gospel. The only person who wins is the last one any of us wants to win.

  13. Bruce Green says:

    I find myself asking a strange question: Can one be reconciled with someone who has no interest in being reconciled? Do these bishops want to be reconciled? This reminds me of some horrible marriage counseling sessions when one of the parties has already gotten a lawyer.

  14. Christopher Cleveland says:

    Colossians 2:6-10 (ESV)
    Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
    See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

    Father in heaven,
    We give You thanks that Christ transcends all dimensions and realms, seen and unseen. We pray that each of the ten bishops found guilty by TEC’s disciplinary apparatus will walk in Jesus, rooted and built up in Him. Christ Jesus is the head of all rule and authority, all principality and power. At the name of Jesus, every principality, power, ruler of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places must bow its knee.
    Christ before the bishops, Christ behind them, Christ to their right, Christ to their left, Christ above them, and Christ beneath them. Christ over their time. Christ! Christ! Christ for Mark, Peter, Maurice, John, Paul, William, Bruce, Daniel, Edward, and James. Amen.

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