Fort Worth, Quincy seek affirmation on church’s ‘hierarchical character’

Fort Worth, Quincy seek affirmation on church’s ‘hierarchical character’

Request relates to court filings in property litigation

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] Episcopal Church Diocese of Quincy Provisional Bishop John Buchanan and Fort Worth Provisional Bishop Wallis Ohl want the House of Bishops to “set the record on the polity of this church regarding its hierarchical character.”

Buchanan and Ohl wrote to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori July 5 to make the request and the House of Bishops discussed their letter during a closed session here July 6. The house is due to continue that discussion at the beginning of their afternoon legislative session July 7, Buchanan and Ohl told Episcopal News Service in an interview after the house recessed.

In their letter Buchanan and Ohl detail four ways in which they say nine bishops made false claims about the nature of Episcopal Church governance in two court filings concerning property litigation in Fort Worth and Quincy. They say those claims “aid and comfort breakaway factions” who want to cripple the church by taking title and control of the church’s real and personal property.

Those court filings have also been the subject of reports July 2 that two Title IV disciplinary complaints have been filed about five active bishops and four retired bishops.

“This is not a matter of a few unhappy bishops stating their personal views on church polity,” Buchanan and Ohl wrote in their letter. “They each affirmatively and officially acted by injecting themselves, intentionally and without invitation from the bishops exercising jurisdiction, into local litigation, opposing this church and sister dioceses on core ecclesiastical issues regarding the very identity of other dioceses.”

The exact process of how the House of Bishops might respond to the request from Buchanan and Ohl is still being discussed, but Buchanan said he hoped the House of Deputies would “observe our concern about this” and consider responding as well.

Bishop Clayton Mathews, who heads the church’s Office of Pastoral Development, e-mailed two groups of bishops in late June to tell them that he had received complaints against them and that “in the next few weeks” he would begin the disciplinary process as called for in Title IV.6.3-4 of the canons of the Episcopal Church. Matthews also serves as the “intake officer” (the person designated to receive complaints alleging offense) for the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops, a body called for in Canon 17 of Title IV. He was appointed the Title IV position by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

One of the Title IV complaints concerns the fact that seven bishops endorsed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief prepared by the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. in the pending appeal of a court ruling involving the Diocese of Fort Worth and the bishop, clergy and laity who broke away from that diocese in November 2008.

The brief objects to the trial court’s ruling that told the dissidents to return “all property, as well as control of the diocesan corporation” to the Episcopal leaders of the diocese.

Tarrant County District Court Judge John Chupp said that because he found that the Episcopal Church’s governance is hierarchical in nature “the court follows Texas precedent governing hierarchical church property disputes, which holds that in the event of a dispute among its members, a constituent part of a hierarchical church consists of those individuals remaining loyal to the hierarchical church body.”

Those named in the Fort Worth complaint challenged the judge’s determination that the church’s governance is hierarchical. The bishops involved are retired Diocese of Texas Bishop Maurice M. Benitez, retired Diocese of Central Florida Bishop John W. Howe, Diocese of Dallas Bishop Suffragan Paul E. Lambert, Diocese of Albany Bishop William H. Love, Diocese of Western Louisiana Bishop D. Bruce MacPherson, Diocese of Springfield Bishop Daniel H. Martins, and Diocese of Dallas Bishop James M. Stanton.

MacPherson is also named in the other complaint, along with retired Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Jr. and retired Diocese of Springfield Bishop Peter H. Beckwith. Matthews e-mailed them to say that a complaint has been received against them because they signed affidavits opposing to a motion for summary judgment made by representatives of the Diocese of Quincy and the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2011 to secure diocesan financial assets from a group that broke from the diocese in November 2008.

For Ohl, the first goal of the request “is to bring some reconciliation into the House of Bishops” because the fact that the bishops acted as they did without at least informing either him or Buchanan was “a violation of the norms of our house.”

The other goal is to “give some indication to the people in the dioceses of Quincy and Fort Worth that they have the support of the House of Bishops,” he said.

The two bishops, Buchanan said, hope for “a message to the world in general about our view of the polity of this church, and the reason that would be helpful is that the view of polity of this church that others have presented is, in my opinion, erroneous.”

“The church has been wonderful to us in many, many different ways, but this process has been dragging on since November 2008 and anything that would hasten the process would be viewed as positive for us,” he added, noting that one member of his diocese asked him “when is this nightmare going to be over.”

While Buchanan said he has not had a conversation with any of the three bishops who signed the Quincy affidavit, Ohl said he spoke with two of the bishops who supported the Fort Worth amicus brief and a third has “acted as if nothing had happened.” He has not spoken to two other signers who are here. The remaining two are not at General Convention, according to Ohl.

Ohl would not discuss in detail his conversation with the two bishops, however, he did say that “I think some reconciliation took place.”

The original article was published on ENS.