Diocese of South Carolina: Presiding Bishop failed to follow the canons of the Episcopal Church in depositions of Bishops Schofield and Cox

From here:

March 27, 2008

The Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori:

We, as the Standing Committee and Bishop of South Carolina, write this letter to strongly protest what we recognize as a failure to follow the Canons of our Episcopal Church in the recent depositions of Bishops Schofield and Cox. We respectfully request that you and the House of Bishops revisit those decisions, refrain from the planned selection of a new bishop for the Diocese of San Joaquin, and make every effort to follow our Church Canons in all future House of Bishops decisions.

We believe that deposition is the most severe sanction that can be applied against a bishop.. Consequently, it is most important that both the letter and the spirit of the Canons be followed. In this instance, it is clear that the canonical safeguards in place were not followed.

Under Canon IV.9.2, the House of Bishops must give its consent to depose a bishop under the “abandonment of communion” canon. “. . . by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote.” The Constitution of the Episcopal Church, Article I.2, states in pertinent part that “Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor, every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop who by reason of advanced age or bodily infirmity . . . has resigned a jurisdiction, shall have a seat and vote in the House of Bishops.”

Due to amendment, Canon IV.9.2, at various times, required consent under these circumstances consisting of ” . . . a majority of the House of Bishops,” “. .. . a majority of the whole number of bishops entitled . . . to seats in the House of Bishops . . . ” and ” . . . by a majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote.” The language of the Canon has consistently required that a majority of all bishops entitled to vote, and not just a majority of those present at a meeting, must give their consent to the deposition of a bishop. Although the language itself is clear, the definition contained in Title IV is even more specific. Canon IV.15 specifically provides that “All the Members shall mean the total number of members of the Body provided for by Constitution or Canon without regard to absences, excused members, abstentions or vacancies.”

As we understand the decision by Chancellor Beers, he interprets the language ” … the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote” to mean the consent of a majority of those bishops who are present and voting. Yet if the drafters of Canon 9 had wanted to allow for the deposition of a bishop on a vote by a majority of the Bishops at a meeting, as distinguished from a vote by a majority of the whole, they clearly knew how to say that.

The Constitution, Canons and Rules of Order are replete with other instances in which the drafters knew how to articulate something other than ” … the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote.”. The Constitution Article I 3, dealing with the election of a Presiding Bishop, requires that such a vote be “by a vote . . . of a majority of all Bishops, excluding retired Bishops not present, except that whenever two-thirds of the House of Bishops are present, a majority vote shall suffice . . . ” Unlike Canon IV.9, other Canons refer to a vote ” . . . by a three-fourths of the members present” or some other “super-majority. In the Rules of Order of the House of Bishops, Rule V speaks of a vote “. . . by a two-thirds vote of those present and voting.” That same language appears in Rules XV, XVIII (a) and XXIX. In short, where the drafters meant “those present and voting,” they knew how to say so, and did so on a number of occasions.

It is only logical that a greater majority of Bishops should be required for involuntary separation by way of deposition than for voluntary separation by resignation. Canon III.12.8 (d), dealing with resignation by a Bishops, provides that the House of Bishops may accept or refuse a resignation of a Bishop ” … by a majority of those present.” Under Chancellor Beers’ interpretation, it is possible for a smaller number of Bishops to consent to the deposition of a Bishop than the number required to consent to resignation of a Bishop.

Not only is this distinction of critical importance under the present circumstances, but also the question may arise again. Accordingly, and with all due respect to you and Chancellor Beers, we must respectfully request that you and the House of Bishops re-visit your decision and allow for a canonically correct vote on the depositions of Bishops Cox and Schofield and on any future possible depositions. Additionally, for the good of our Church, we ask you not to proceed with the planned election of a replacement for Bishop Schofield until the matter of his deposition can be legally and canonically resolved.

The Diocese of South Carolina demonstrated our commitment to the proper observance of The Episcopal Church Canons with two election conventions and eighteen months of Standing Committee and Bishop confirmations. Because we feel so strongly that the Canons were not followed in the depositions of Bishops Schofield and Cox, we must respectfully refuse to recognize the depositions, and we will not recognize any new bishop who may be elected to replace Bishop Schofield, unless and until the canons are followed.

Yours in Christ,

The Very Reverend John B. Burwell
President, Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina


The Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence
Bishop, Diocese of South Carolina

WHLIII/fnr

cc: David Booth Beers, Esquire

BB NOTE: You may also want to read this essay by Dan Martins entitled, “Perfect Storm Brewing,” here.