Story Highlights

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, has approved an accord reached between various complainants and nine bishops of the Church arising from three ecclesiastical discipline complaints filed under Title IV of the Church’s canons.  A copy of the accord is HERE.

The accord arises from conciliation, or mediation, of complaints which alleged that the respondent bishops, purporting to act in their official capacities as bishops of The Episcopal Church, caused to be filed or endorsed for filing an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court (Case No. 11-0265) on April 23, 2012 or an affidavit with the Circuit Court of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Adams County, Illinois (Case No. 09-MR-31) on October 6, 2011, in which they asserted opinions regarding the polity of the church adverse to the ecclesiastical determinations and  positions of The Episcopal Church and the continuing Episcopal Dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy, and in support of breakaway factions in that litigation involving disputes over property and funds of the Church, all outside of Respondents’ respective dioceses.

The Parties

Fort Worth complainants are the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, former provisional bishop of the diocese; Ms. Martha A. Fagley, current president of the Standing Committee; Ms. Elinor Normand, current secretary of the Standing Committee; current Standing Committee members the Rev. Susan Slaughter and the Rev. William Stanford; and former Standing Committee members the Rev. David A. Madison and Ms. Margaret D. Mieuli.  In addition, Mr. Paul Ambos, a member of Christ Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey, also filed a complaint arising out of the Fort Worth filings.

Quincy complainants are Standing Committee members the Rev. Canon James Clement, the Very Rev. Robert Demon, Ms. Tobyn Leigh, the Rev. Canon John Blossom, Ms. Christine Barrow, and Ms.  Janna Haworth, arising from the Quincy filings.

The respondent bishops, the subject of the complaints, are the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe (resigned, Diocese of Central Florida); the Rt. Rev. Paul E. Lambert (suffragan, Diocese of Dallas); the Rt. Rev. William H. Love (diocesan, Diocese of Albany); the Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson (resigned, Diocese of W. Louisiana); the Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins (diocesan, Diocese of Springfield); the Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton (diocesan, Diocese of Dallas); the Rt. Rev. Maurice M. Benitez (resigned, Diocese of Texas); the Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith (resigned, Diocese of Springfield); and the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon (resigned, Diocese of South Carolina).

The Complaints

The complaints alleged the following specific violations of Title IV:

  1. Canon IV.3.1(a)—knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of this Church or any Diocese, specifically,
    • Constitution Art. II.3—jurisdiction of bishops;
    • Canon III.13—jurisdiction of provisional bishops;
    • Fort Worth Diocesan Constitution art. 14—title to church property;
    • Fort Worth Diocesan Canon 17—Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth;
  2.  Canon IV.4.1(e)—safeguarding the property and funds of the Church, specifically,
    • Canon I.7.4—Dennis Canon trust interest;
    • Canon II.6—use of churches;
    • Fort Worth Diocesan Canon 30—use of churches;
  3.  Canon IV.4.1(g)—exercising his or her ministry in accordance with applicable provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Church and of the Diocese;
  4. Canon IV.4.1(h)(6)—refraining from conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
  5. Canon IV.4.1(h)(8)—conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, specifically violation of fiduciary duty under Canon I.17.8; and
  6.  IV.16(A)—abandoning The Episcopal Church.

The Accord

The Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews, Intake Officer for the Church, referred this matter to the Reference Panel of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, after determining that the foregoing allegations, if true, would constitute one or more Offenses under General Canon IV.3 or IV.4.  Respondents denied that their actions violate the Constitution or Canons of the Episcopal Church or their ordination vows.  The Reference Panel then referred this matter for conciliation.

Mr. John Douglass, an attorney and law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Richmond, Virginia, acted as conciliator for this matter.  The parties or their representatives, counselors, and advisors met in Richmond on January 8-9 and concluded their written agreement on February 20, 2013.

The accord includes a continuing confidentiality provision regarding the conciliation process.  It also includes these provisions:

  • The respondents’ commendation of the Episcopalians in the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy and San Joaquin – lay and clergy – for their unflagging efforts to continue to witness God’s mission as The Episcopal Church during recent difficult times as they reorganize their continuing dioceses in that same spirit, identifying by name the current bishops of those continuing dioceses, respectively;
  • The respondents’ expression of regret for any harm to the bishops, clergy and laity of the dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy resulting from Respondents’ acts;
  • The respondents’ agreement not to file or endorse any further amicus brief or affidavit in litigation outside of their respective dioceses and against the legal position of The Episcopal Church until the General Convention formally addresses this conduct, either by amendment to the Constitution and/or canons or by formal resolution and to act in accordance with the action of the General Convention;
  • The respondents’ acknowledgement that the 2009 Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church is likely a minority opinion;
  • The respondents’ affirmation that the authority of a diocesan bishop is limited by the Dennis canon, which expresses the trust interest of the Church and its diocese in all real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any parish, mission, or congregation (Canon I.7.4);
  • The respondents’ agreement to help defray the costs of the conciliation process, except that the complainants excused the Rt. Rev. Maurice M. Benitez from any such obligation;
  • A joint agreement that the accord constitutes a full and final resolution of all offenses arising from the alleged acts.

Title IV

Title IV is the ecclesiastical discipline section of the Church’s canons that govern members of the Church’s ordained clergy for various ecclesiastical offenses or abandonment of the Church.  The Disciplinary Board for Bishops has original jurisdiction over matters of the discipline of bishops.  An accord with a respondent bishop takes effect only upon written acceptance of its terms by the presiding bishop.

Amended by General Convention effective July 1, 2010, Title IV acknowledges the mutual accountability of all members of the Church and applies to “Members of the Clergy, who have by their vows at ordination accepted additional responsibilities and accountabilities for doctrine, discipline, worship, and obedience.”  Title IV sets out processes which seek to promote “healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected” by events involving alleged clergy misconduct.  Canon IV.1.

“These proceedings represent the responsibility of the Church, reflecting the polity and order of this hierarchical church.  Members of the Clergy have voluntarily sought and accepted positions in the Church and have thereby given their consent to subject themselves to the Discipline of the Church.”  Canon IV.19.