Letter from the President of the Standing Committee on the Conciliation
From Marti Fagley, President of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, on the recent conciliation meeting and settlement:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In June 2012, the members of the Standing Committee and our then provisional bishop, the Rt. Rev. C Wallis Ohl, submitted a Title IV complaint to the Episcopal Church Intake Officer, the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews. This internal Church disciplinary proceeding was initiated against seven bishops ordained by The Episcopal Church and subject to their ordination vows of obedience and discipline within the Church, who had filed an amicus brief in the Texas Supreme Court in April 2012, in support of the breakaway factions who are in litigation against The Episcopal Church involving the use of Church property and funds, all outside their respective dioceses. 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. Under Church law, “[t]hese 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.
Once our charges were submitted, we became bound by the canonical terms of confidentiality of the Title IV process. We heard nothing further on the actions being undertaken until late October. We were notified then that this action had been referred to the Reference Panel, which then referred the matter for Conciliation, or mediation, and that we would participate in that part of the disciplinary process with representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy and Mr. Paul Ambos, a member of Christ Church, New Brunswick, NJ, who had also filed Title IV complaints against these seven or other bishops who had filed similar documents in litigation involving the Diocese of Quincy.
The Conciliation process is new in the revised Title IV, adopted at the General Convention 2009. Our complaints were the first against bishops to reach this part of the disciplinary process. This was new territory for us all.
We were notified in November that Mr. John G. Douglass, former dean of the School of Law at the University of Richmond, would serve as our conciliator and an advisor would be assigned. We were authorized to send our advisor and one person to represent the Standing Committee, and at our own expense we could also include our legal counsel or other representatives. When the Standing Committee met in November, our members determined we should send the past president (the Rev. David Madison), the current president of the Standing Committee, and our diocesan chancellor, Ms. Kathleen Wells, as our intrachurch legal representative. A few weeks later, we were notified that our assigned advisor was the Rev. Janet Waggoner, whose experience in the Title IV processes in the Diocese of Connecticut and The Episcopal Church qualified her to serve for us.
We have held many executive session meetings of the Standing Committee with both past and present members, Bishop Ohl, Bishop Rayford B. High, Ms. Wells, Mr. Richard Henderson, and the Rev. Waggoner before, during, and after our two-day Conciliation meetings at the Roslyn Episcopal Conference Center in Richmond, VA. Along with representatives and advisors from all Complainants, the Responders, observing members from the House of Bishops, the Conciliator and the Intake Officer for the Episcopal Church, we signed a confidentiality agreement regarding the details of the proceedings that remains in effect; and we proceeded to negotiate the primary structure of the accord. Once the team returned home, additional fine tuning continued until the final accord was reached and signed by all parties a few days ago. The presiding bishop has now approved the terms of the accord and, as required by Church canon, has released the accord for distribution across The Episcopal Church.
This has been a learning experience for each of us. It has been a privilege and honor to work collaboratively as a Standing Committee in this matter which addresses fundamental issues of the mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church.
We offer deep appreciation for the long hours and wise counsel of our diocesan chancellor, Ms. Wells, who provided a depth of knowledge, tenacity, and skill to help us achieve this end; and to our assistant chancellor, Mr. Henderson, who provided a fresh perspective when needed. The talent, experience and understanding of the Title IV process that the Rev. Waggoner afforded our team was gratefully received and truly valued. We were all surprised to learn of this treasure of experience in our midst! A special thank you and appreciation is extended to our long-serving former Standing Committee members, the Rev. Madison and Ms. Margaret Mieuli, for their valuable input, insights and voices in forming this accord. We are more grateful for the additional time and ministry they have provided than we can fully express. Bishop Ohl has walked with us from the beginning and even though he is no longer our provisional bishop, he has participated in our meetings and processes by teleconference and emails. We thank Bishop Ohl for his continued pastoral care and participation. We acknowledge and appreciate Bishop Rayford High’s involvement. Bishop High fully supported and encouraged us along the way. Although he is not a party to the accord, we are heartened by his assurances to be our voice in the House of Bishops to sustain this agreement.
The Standing Committee thanks the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth for your prayers, patience, and faith in us. Although any mediation/conciliation is never all either party wants, we all believe this accord, which was done prayerfully, patiently, collaboratively and deliberately, is a good one. We are ready to move forward, to close this matter, and to get on with the other business of our Lord and the Church in this time and place. May God continue to bless us in these efforts.
Your servant in Christ,
Martha A. (Marti) Fagley
President of the Standing Committee