By George Conger
THE DIOCESE of San Joaquin, California, has accused US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of abuse of office for selectively enforcing church canon law to the detriment of conservatives.
The Presiding Bishop’s office admitted that it acquiesced in the Diocese of Virginia’s violation of the express language of Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons in the consecration process of its new bishop, but stated the violation was customary and not of sufficient merit to call into question the validity of the Episcopal consecration of Bishop Shannon T Johnston of Virginia.
In a letter dated July 20, the conservative-leaning diocese accused Bishop Schori of “unequal application of the same canon in two separate cases within months of each other,” permitting the “irregular consecration” of the Bishop-coadjutor of Virginia.
These actions may have caused a “liability on your part for violation of the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention,” the diocese said.
Following the election of Bishop-elect Johnston the Diocese of Virginia solicited consents, or approval of his election, using a consent form not in conformance with the language of the Constitution and Canons. The so called “short form”, Canon Carlson Gerdau, canon to Presiding Bishop Schori told The Living Church magazine, had been used by other dioceses in recent years and “no one has ever objected to it before.”
It was the Presiding Bishop’s opinion that use of a form not authorised by the canons did not constitute a “defect”.
San Joaquin stated it protested the use of the “short form” in letters dated May 31 and June 18, noting that the church law required conformance to the explicit language of the canons. The diocese stated on July 22 it not received an acknowledgment of its protests, however the Episcopal News Service reported the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor responded to the May and June letters “last week”.
Earlier this year, Bishop Schori nullified the election of Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina, tossing out ballots from dioceses in favour of his election for not being in strict conformance to the requirement that the ballots be signed by all members of a diocese’s standing committee, thereby depriving him of a majority necessary for consent to his election.
South Carolina initially sought to use the “short form” to solicit the consents of Bishop- elect Lawrence, but was cautioned by the Presiding Bishop’s office to use the proper language found in the canons so as not to violate the canons. The permissive stance taken towards Virginia while South Carolina was required to conform to the letter of the law, over the same issue within a period of two months by the Presiding Bishop’s office, prompted San Joaquin’s charges of hypocrisy and double standards.
The Diocese of Virginia declined to respond. However, observers in Virginia note that the diocese’s claims that the Virginia-based CANA Bishop Martyn Minns has irregular episcopal orders, would appear to be undercut, given the admitted defect in the consecration process of its bishop-coadjutor.
Further formal action is not considered likely, as US church law gives the Presiding Bishop the authority to determine whether a violation of canon law has occurred.