Nathaniel Pierce on the Question of the House of Bishops recent Vote to Depose two Bishops

The rationale presented in the ENS article would appear to be in error on two counts:

1) Canon IV.9.2 clearly states “by a majority of the whole number of
Bishops entitled to vote.” The “whole number” (currently 294) is
defined in Article I, Sec.2 of the Constitution. Mr. Beers somehow
construes “whole number” in IV.9.2 to mean “by a majority of those
Bishops present at the meeting during which the matter was
presented” (see #2).

2) Canon IV.9.2 only requires the PB “to present the matter to the
House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the
House.” There is no requirement or even implication that the
vote “by the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote” must be
taken during said meeting.

In addition, the article states that the Secretary of the House of Bishops
determined that a quorum was present. A quorum is defined (Article I.2)
as a majority of Bishops with jurisdiction. For this meeting 52 Bishops
constituted a quorum. Under Mr. Beers interpretation, therefore, only
27 votes for deposition would be required in a worst case scenario.
That is 9% of “the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote.” Or to
put the point another way, there really is a difference between requiring
a minimum of 148 votes for deposing a Bishop and interpeting that to
mean that only 27 votes to consent are required. For those who have
difficulty with counting, the difference is 121 votes.

For some this is nit picking. For me the Constitution and Canons of our
church state the mutually agreed upon understandings of how we will live
together in this community called the Episcopal Church. When these
mutually agreed upon understandings are trashed and/or ignored, then
the community itself is also trashed. When such an endeavor is led by
our Bishops, the harm done becomes egregious.

How hypocritical that we should seek to discipline those accused of
ignoring our C&C by employing a process which ignored our C&C.

–The Rev. Nathaniel Pierce lives in Trappe, Maryland

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts, TEC Polity & Canons

22 comments on “Nathaniel Pierce on the Question of the House of Bishops recent Vote to Depose two Bishops

  1. robroy says:

    Could we just have that one more time…
    [blockquote]How hypocritical that we should seek to discipline those accused of ignoring our C&C;by employing a process which ignored our C&C;.[/blockquote]
    For a very detailed analysis from the authoritative reference, White and Dykman (1981 ed.), see the comment [url= ]here[/url].

  2. Adam 12 says:

    The curious thing is that there is a proposal afloat that would require that canonical questions be decided inside the church only. Recourse to the secular courts would be forbidden. In cases where plain English is being flouted, one wonders whether such policy changes would sway secular courts into giving a church total autonomy with regard to enforcing its constitution. In other words, could any potential cases of institutional constitutional fraud lie outside state scrutiny?

  3. VaAnglican says:

    Adam 12, they can try to write out involvement by civil courts, but that really has its limits. They are still liable for damages caused, and as a corporate entity still have an obligation to follow their own rules. And, yes, they can’t write themselves out of over-arching legal obligations regarding fraud, fiduciary duty, statutory obligtions, and so forth. A situation like this is so clear-cut that it would hardly be considered a matter of interpretation.

  4. Chancellor says:

    I have to take issue with Rev. Pierce’s second point. The historical analysis of the canon’s language (referenced by robroy in #1 above) shows that it was precisely because a vote for the deposition of Bishop Cummings in 1874 was taken by mail that language was added by the General Convention of that year to require the Presiding Bishop to convene a meeting of the HoB [i]for the specific purpose[/i] of voting on the deposition. The depositions of +Cox and +Schofield were on the agenda; resolutions for their deposition were proposed; but they did not pass by the requisite number. Following Canon IV.9 again, the inhibition against +Schofield is now lifted (+Cox was never inhibited to begin with). TEC might want to reconsider its rejection of +Schofield’s resignation before it proceeds to install +Lamb.

  5. Br. Michael says:

    And it must be pointed out again that the abandonment canon was passed in response to bishops who went to another denomination the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Episcopal Church. That is why they amount to summary proceedings. They were not written thinking that they would be applied to a bishop changing provences in the Anglican Communion as they have been.
    The logic only works if TEC is taking the position that the AC is another denomination with which they are not in communion.

    That is why a lot of us maintain that the canon is being wrongly applied ab initio. So why use it? Because it is a summary proceeding and due process safeguards are nonexistant or minimal and because TEC can get away with it.

  6. Stuart Smith says:

    Am I the only one who is struck by the rush to judgment(s) that is happening immediately preceding Holy Week?

  7. BabyBlue says:

    The Virginia clock is ticking.


  8. Ron says:

    A few questions…
    Will any Bishop who was present at the meeting speak up?
    Was the Bishop Rightor trial the most recent precendent for use (and interpretation) of this Canon?
    Other than +Schofield and +Cox, who might take steps to challenge this action and how would it be done?

  9. Kendall Harmon says:

    I am glad #5 brought up the issue of the proper use of this canon in the first place.

    Please take note of this letter from Bob Royce which has not been mentioned for a while:

    ” EXHIBIT ‘M’ ”

    Attorneys and Counselors At Law
    110 East Main Street
    P.O. Box P 54510
    Bay Shore, New York 11706

    Robert C. Royce

    January 20, 2002

    Frank Helminski, Esq.
    The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
    Office of the General Counsel 8 Main
    34th Street & Civic Center Blvd.
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

    Dear Mr. Helminski:


    (3) Issue of Abandonment of Communion: Your suggestion that a Rector who refuses to permit the Diocesan Bishop to make a Canonical Visitation is no longer in communion with the Bishop, I believe, goes beyond the concept of abandonment. Most Rectors in this situation usually and wisely do not front the action, but leave it to the Wardens to block a Bishop’s Visitation.

    If a Rector were to do so directly, the Rector would be liable for the Canon IV.1. Canonical Offenses of Violation of the Canons of General Convention, probably a Violation of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer as to the prerogative of a Bishop to preside (BCP, P. 322), and, if the Bishop were to craft an appropriate Pastoral Direction as to a Canonicalk Visitation and issue it to the Rector prior to the Visitation under Canon IV.1(h), also a Violation of Ordination Vows.

    However, I would be careful about trying to stretch any dispute between the Rector and Bishop to the level of abandonment of communion. If every member of the Clergy in a Diocese who strongly disagreed with the Diocesan Bishop over matters theological, political, social, sexual, liturgical, fiscal, etc. were to be “out of communion with the bishop” has thusly abandoned the communion of the Church, any serious difference of opinion between bishops and clergy could be called “out of communion”.

    Canon IV.10.1 Of Abandonment of Communion of This Church by a Priest or Deacon, requires that:

    … the Priest or Deacon has abandoned the Communion of this Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of this Church, or by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with this Church or in any other way …

    The “any other way” is a catchall phrase, but would require the same severity of conduct as open renunciation and formal admission.

    If a Bishop and a supportive Standing Committee could declare that any Member of the Clergy having strong differences with the Bishop is “out of communion”, this would be a terrible chilling effect on the life of the Church. This is especially so as Canon III.10 is essentially a unilateral declaration of abandonment by the Standing Committee and Bishop.

    The Disciplinary Canons in Title IV provide a sufficient vehicle for the discipline of Members of the Clergy who violate the Canons and the application of Canon III.10 is available for cases of true abandonment.

    I hope that this is helpful to you and the Standing Committee in your deliberations.

    Sincerely yours,


    Robert C. Royce

  10. BillS says:

    [i]We[/i] all agree that the canons were grossly misused and violated. However, the chancellor (Beers) says that everything was done legally and properly and the decision and outcome stands. What recourse is available to challenge? Secular courts? A few brave bishops bringing action? and what would that action be?

    Other than wailing and gnashing our teeth, is there any mechanism to challenge the deposition of the two bishops?

  11. Violent Papist says:

    I have, in my possession, and old copy of White and Dykman, the revised 1981 edition. The commentary is most enlightening on the subject. It seems clear to me that, at least through 1981, that the PECUSA until recently has understood the canon in question, as variously formulated from 1853 forwards, to require a vote of ALL bishops eligible to sit in the House of Bishops to consent to a deposition for abandonment of communion – not just a majority of those who happened to sit in on the meeting.

    Apparently, and I did not know this, the deposition of Bishop Cummings in 1874 was seriously botched, because the-then Presiding Bishop did not call a meeting of the House of Bishops, but instead obtained the consent of a majority of the bishops entitled to seats in the House of Bishops to the consent by writing. This action was severely criticized at the time as irregular, and at a later meeting of the HOB, the deposition was ratified. To prevent this incident from recurring, the canon was changed to requiring, for deposition for abandonment of communion, the convening of a meeting, and “if a majority of the whole number of bishops entitled at the time to seats in the House of Bishops, shall at such meeting give their consent. . . ” etc. In other words, it seems that the canons always presumed that consent of a majority of ALL of the members of the House of Bishops entitled to seats – the only change was that the consents had to be obtained at a meeting. This paragraph has been tweaked somewhat since then, but there doesn’t seems to be any substantive change with respect to the issue at hand. The current canon providing: “Otherwise, 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. If the House, by
    a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give
    its consent. . . .” etc.

  12. vulcanhammer says:

    9: KSH, that’s the part I don’t understand. [url=]I brought up this question in January on the issue of “abandonment of communion.”[/url]

    If TEC is in the AC, and someone moves to another province, how can that be abandonment of communion? Abandoning TEC, certainly.

    I just don’t get it.

  13. paxetbonum says:

    Vulcan Hammer,
    The canons speak of the abandoning the “Communion of this *Church*” meaning the Episcopal Church, not abandoning the Worldwide Anglican Communion”. The Anglican Communion isn’t a church but a communion of 38 self governing provinces.

  14. Timothy Fountain says:

    Stuart #6 – you’re not alone in thinking this has to do with Holy Week. But I think it is beyond cynical, it has to do with faithful people walking closely with Christ.
    I’ve blogged on this at Northern Plains Anglicans (should be linked via my name here…if not, it is linked as a “Reasserter blog” over to the right of this page).

  15. francis says:

    There are no brave Bishops left. They have either left, or cannot even defend the Daughters of the King, much less other Bishops under attack.

  16. Br. Michael says:

    13, until reciently they were one and the same. Thus “this Church” = the AC. TEC’s actions since the 1960’s have made the phraise “this Church” ambiguous. This gets us back to the standard problem, TEC wants it both ways. They want to be part of the AC and in a mutually submissive relationship, but they want to be totaly autonomous were they can do anything they want without sanction.

  17. Lapinbizarre says:

    The Virginia clock is only ticking in Virginia, BB [#7]. Those in South Carolina and elsewhere can tell you that it doesn’t set the time in other states.

  18. Branford says:

    Hey, it’s ticking in California, too!

  19. Lapinbizarre says:

    Virginia has a specific state statute, Brandon, dating from and passed in relation to, Slavery Secession. Its purpose, I gather, was to protect the property of seceding dioceses from the National Church. Its existence is a factor in the legal defense of Truro, Falls Church, et al. The state courts may or may not hold that it has relevance to the present situation. I have not seen reference to a similar law in California, but if you know of one, I would certainly be interested to hear of it.

  20. robroy says:

    Baby blue is referring to the fact that the TEc bizarre proposition in Virginia was that there was no division (despite KJS using that very word a year ago). Dioceses leaving provides pretty good evidence that there is a division.

    Also, Baby Blue pointed out that the strict interpretation of the number of bishops needed to convict Righter of heresy was used but not for the deposition of Schofield. Double standard? I don’t believe it.

  21. Cennydd says:

    I do.

  22. DavidH says:

    Canon Harmon, that’s a very interesting letter. Not least because Bob Royce is leading the charge to update White & Dykman, isn’t he?

    20, robroy, you may want to check the Va trial transcripts and briefs. If I’m not mistaken, dioceses leaving wasn’t ever discussed and is not before the court.

    Regarding the Virginia clock generally, it certainly is ticking. The trouble though is that no one knows what time the alarm is set to go off (the trial court decision), and the snooze button (appeals) is certain to be pressed at least once. Justice, whatever you think that is in these cases, is not likely to wake up for a while.