The Living Church has posted a major breaking story this evening. Their servers are currently down (“too many connections” says the message!) and so for the time being, we’re posting the full text.
Deposition Votes Failed to Achieve Canonically Required Majority
Posted on: March 14, 2008
Slightly more than one-third of all bishops eligible voted to depose bishops John-David Schofield and William J. Cox during the House of Bishops’ spring retreat, far fewer than the 51 percent required by the canons.
The exact number is impossible to know, because both resolutions were approved by voice vote. Only 131 bishops registered for the meeting March 7-12 at Camp Allen, and at least 15 of them left before the business session began on Wednesday. There were 294 members of the House of Bishops entitled to vote on March 12.
When questioned about canonical inconsistencies during a telephone press conference at the conclusion of the meeting, Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina said the bishops had relied on advice provided to them by canonical experts, and did not examine canonical procedure during plenary debate prior to the votes to depose bishops Schofield and Cox.
Bishop Schofield was consecrated Bishop of San Joaquin in 1989. Last December, he presided over a diocesan convention at which clergy and lay delegates voted overwhelmingly to leave The Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone. Bishop Cox was consecrated Bishop Suffragan of Maryland in 1972. He resigned in 1980, later serving as Assisting Bishop of Oklahoma from 1980 to 1988. In 2005, Bishop Cox ordained two priests and a deacon at Christ Church, Overland Park, Kan. Christ Church affiliated with the Anglican Church of Uganda after purchasing its property from the Diocese of Kansas.
Both bishops were charged with abandonment of communion. The procedure for deposing a bishop under this charge is specified in Title IV, canon 9, sections 1-2. The canon stipulates that the vote requires “a majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote,” not merely a majority of those present. At least a dozen bishops voted either not to depose Bishop Schofield or to abstain, according to several bishops. The number voting in favor of deposing Bishop Cox was reportedly slightly larger than the number in favor of deposing Bishop Schofield.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was questioned about the history of the canonical proceedings against Bishop Cox. At first she said during the press conference that she had not sought the canonically required consent of the three senior bishops of the church for permission to inhibit Bishop Cox pending his trial. However Title IV, Canon 9, sections 1-2 do not describe a procedure for deposing a bishop who has not first been inhibited.
Consent Never Sought
Later in the press conference, Bishop Jefferts Schori clarified and extended her remarks, saying she had been “unable to get the consent of the three senior bishops last spring. That’s why we didn’t bring it to the September meeting” of the House of Bishops. One of the three senior bishops with jurisdiction confirmed to The Living Church that his consent to inhibit Bishop Cox was never sought.
In 2007, Bishop Cox sent a written letter to Bishop Jefferts Schori, announcing his resignation from the House of Bishops. Since he was already retired, he did not have jurisdiction, and therefore unlike Bishop Schofield, his resignation did not require consent from a majority of the House of Bishops. A trial of Bishop Cox was not mandatory.
Bishop Cox also does not appear to have been granted due process with respect to a speedy trial. Once the disciplinary review committee formally certifies that a bishop has abandoned communion, the canons state “it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the house.” The review committee provided certification to Bishop Jefferts Schori on May 29, 2007. His case should have been heard during the fall meeting in New Orleans last September. When asked about the apparent inconsistency, Bishop Jefferts Schori said initially she did not include Bishop Cox’s case on the agenda for the New Orleans meeting “due to the press of business.”
Title IV, canon 9, section 1 requires the Presiding Bishop to inform the accused bishop “forthwith,” in other words immediately, after the review committee has provided a certificate of abandonment, but Bishop Jefferts Schori did not write to Bishop Cox until Jan. 8, 2008, more than seven months afterward.
The two-hour business session at which the deposition votes were taken ran slightly longer than originally scheduled. First a resolution was read followed by prayer from the chaplain. A period of silence followed the prayer. After the silence was broken, the bishops discussed the resolution in small table groups followed by plenary discussion. When it appeared that everyone who wanted to speak had done so, the voice vote was taken. Each resolution was read and voted on separately.
(The Rev.) George Conger and Steve Waring