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Episcopalians File Formal Complaint against PB over Massive Litigation Costs

Episcopalians File Formal Complaint against Presiding Bishop over Massive Litigation Costs
Katharine Jefferts Schori has violated the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons, they say


By David W. Virtue
March 12, 2014

A document leaked to Virtueonline says that a group calling themselves the American Anglican Fellowship, (AAF), has filed a complaint with Bishop Clay Matthews, Intake Officer of the Episcopal Church, saying that Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has violated the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons.

The group of current and former members of The Episcopal Church, say that the AAF took this action only after prayerful consideration and the exhausting of all reasonable means of communication and not receiving a single response to their many concerns.

"In recent years more than 700 Clergy and 5,000 Christians have petitioned The Episcopal Church and five Episcopal Bishops also requested information and transparency in The Episcopal Church with spending more than $22 million dollars of church funds in 80 or more secular lawsuits against departing churches and dioceses. These lawsuits are ongoing with no solution in sight," noted the document.

The group filed the information on December 19, 2013 with Bishop Clay Matthews who later recused himself and replaced by Canon John N. Osgood of New York as did Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori. Former New York Bishop Mark Sisk has been appointed Canonical Authority. George E. Wade, Esq., also of New York, has been appointed to provide counsel.

The group still awaits a formal response from the Church.

"We framed this document in a caring and loving way that would be acceptable to all, not to discipline, but to achieve an Accord of conciliation as Christ would have us do, to bring an end to this madness of Christians suing Christians," said the document.

Among the charges by the AAF are:

* That Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has violated the Constitution and Canons specifically Canon IV.6.2 and with the understanding that, "by virtue of Baptism, all Members of the Church are called to holiness of life and accountability to one another" (Canon IV.I).

* Many Episcopalians believe TEC has departed from the traditional faith held by the consensus of the Anglican Communion and world Christendom. To remain in unity with the "One holy catholic and apostolic church" (Nicene Creed, John 17:21-23, 1 John 1:3), some have transferred to another Anglican body (e.g., Anglican Church in North America) or to another denomination. Some parishes have departed TEC with their properties after diocesan negotiations. However, in the vast number of situations, the Presiding Bishop and various bishops (her assigns) have filed lawsuits to seize these properties and taken action to extinguish TEC clergy from the ordained ministry who have transferred to another Anglican Church.

* A petition by more than 5,000 Christians, including 697 clergy and 24 bishops, unsuccessfully sought to obtain an explanation from the Presiding Bishop concerning the litigious actions that have squandered an estimated $21.5 million in Church funds - money that should be used for traditional Christian purposes.

* The litigation and punitive administrative actions are a discredit to all as they contradict Christ's teaching to be charitable and loving towards fellow Christians (Mt. 5:43-48); Secondly that apostolic instructions not to sue other Christians (1 Cor. 6:1-7); policies of past presiding bishops' allowing parish departures with property; and practices of other denominations (e.g., Presbyterian and Lutheran). When the Israelites were called by God to leave Egypt, they were allowed to leave with their property (Ex. 12:31-36). TEC should do nothing less. Pharaoh's attempt to get the Israelites and property back had disastrous consequences. The same can happen to TEC. With departing parishes, TEC should have the spirit of Gamaliel -- if it is God's will, these parishes and TEC may someday re-unite (Acts 5:38-39). In the Civil War, TEC split between North and South. After the war, parishes and dioceses re-united.

The AAF cites a number of public reports and articles issued over the past few years describing conduct alleged to violate TEC's Constitution and Canons. The group cites six alleged offenses.

First. The Presiding Bishop has violated and continues to violate Canon IV.19.2 by seeking an interpretation of TEC canons from secular courts, and (2) Canon IV.4.1(e) requires the safeguarding of TEC property and funds.

Public reports indicate that the Presiding Bishop, acting through her Chancellor's law firm, and various bishops have initiated (or continued) litigation of over seventy secular lawsuits against dioceses, parishes, clergy, and volunteer vestry members seeking to depart with parish property for which they hold title. These lawsuits include sixteen states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Over forty of the lawsuits involve actions against parishioners who voluntarily served as vestry members or other leadership positions. In some cases, the Presiding Bishop and various bishops are seeking personal assets of these parishioners for monetary punitive damages causing undue and unjust personal financial hardship and mental suffering to them. The current estimated cost for TEC litigation exceeds $21.5 million. This estimate would be even higher if it included the money spent by individual dioceses participating in the litigation and that of parishes, dioceses, clergy and lay people being sued by TEC.

Litigation is not how Christians resolve conflicts with each other. Presiding Bishops in the past have not acted litigiously; some diocesan bishops do not wish to act this way today. In 1873, Bishop George Cummings of Kentucky and Reverend Charles Cheney of Chicago met in New York City and, with a number of clergy and laity, left TEC to establish the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). Research on this event did not reveal any administrative charges or litigation over property by TEC. Today, some dioceses have allowed clergy and parishes to leave to join another Anglican body or the Roman Catholic Church. (e.g., parishes in Dallas, Kansas, and Washington left with property and a Maryland parish left without property).

Press reports and other sources indicate the Bishop of Virginia, with tacit approval from the former Presiding Bishop, had been negotiating a departure of over seven parishes seeking to leave TEC with their property. After the new Presiding Bishop's election, negotiations ceased and litigation began.

Two fellow denominations, the Presbyterian and Lutheran Churches, have allowed parishes and clergy to depart with their property. In 1973, many presbyteries (similar to dioceses) in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PC-USA) allowed parishes to leave to found the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Inquiry to the national PCA office did not reveal any litigation over property.

Last year, 2012, the Pittsburgh Presbytery publicly announced that parishes wishing to leave could do so after negotiation. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) one hundred ninety-nine (199) parishes left in 2010 to form a new Church body. One hundred thirty-six (136) other Lutheran churches await a second required vote of convention to leave peacefully.

In light of this comparative information, the litigious policy by the Presiding Bishop is out of step with any of the other mainline denominations.

The litigation authorized by the Presiding Bishop and various bishops asks courts to interpret provisions of the Constitution and Canons. The litigation thus violates Canon IV.19.2, which provides that "No member of the Church, whether lay or ordained, may seek to have the Constitution and Canons interpreted by a secular court, or resort to a secular court to address a dispute arising under the Constitution and Canons, or for any purpose of delay, hindrance, review or otherwise affecting any proceeding under this Title."

The litigation further violates Canon IV.4.1(e), which requires the Presiding Bishop and various bishops, as members of the Clergy, to "safeguard the property and funds of the Church and Community." The expense for litigation is a violation of the canon since other solutions with substantially less cost have been used in the past and today by TEC as well as the Presbyterian and Lutheran Churches.

For failure to safeguard the property and funds of the Church, the Presiding Bishop "shall be accountable" (Canon IV.4.2).

Second. Based upon information and belief, the Presiding Bishop has violated and continues to violate Canon IV.4.1 for misuse of the Abandonment of Communion canons by charging numerous bishops, priests, and deacons with Abandonment for transferring to another Anglican body.

According to a 2012 report issued by the American Anglican Council (AAC Report), the Presiding Bishop and various bishops abused the Abandonment of Communion canons for disciplining four Bishops and hundreds of priests and deacons who transferred from TEC to another church in the Anglican Communion.

If the Presiding Bishop and various bishops wish to remove TEC clergy from ordained rank status, the AAC report indicates the appropriate canons would be IV.1 and IV.5. These canons call for a trial or other hearing, with confrontation of witnesses and the presentation of both sides of a case. Traditionally, the Abandonment of Communion canons apply to situations where there has been a full departure of a clergy person from TEC and the Anglican Communion.

The revised 2012 canons specify "the Church" rather than "this Church" which makes the traditional view more explicit. "The Church" is broader and apparently applies to the Anglican Communion or the "whole Church" (BCP 328-329)

By misuse of the canons, the Presiding Bishop and various bishops have extinguished the right of the clergy to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority conferred in ordination in the Anglican Church body where they transferred. Apparently recognizing the harshness of this action, TEC replacement Bishops in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and South Carolina lessened the Abandonment charge to "restrict [the] exercise of ministry" only within TEC.

The misuse of the Abandonment of Communion canons by the Presiding Bishop and various bishops violates Canon IV.4.1(g) that requires her to exercise her ministry "in accordance with applicable provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Church."

Third. Based upon information and belief, the Presiding Bishop has violated and continues to violate Canons III.12.7, III.7.8, III.9.8 and IV.4.1(g) by abusing the Renunciation, Release and Removal canons by claiming "implied renunciation" of numerous bishops, priests, and deacons when written renunciation is required

According to the same AAC Report, the Presiding Bishop and various bishops wrongfully implied "renunciation" or "release and removal" for nine bishops and hundreds of priests and deacons in the absence of specific written declarations of renunciation required by Canons III.12.7, III.7.8, and III 9.8. In these cases, the bishops, priests and deacons transferred to another church in the Anglican Communion and informed the Presiding Bishop they had not renounced their orders.

The most glaring misuse involves Bishop Henry Scriven, ordained and consecrated in the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Scriven was not in fact a Bishop of "this Church" as required by the canon that the Presiding Bishop invoked when she purported to remove him from the ordained ministry and to pronounce him "deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred on him in Ordinations." He was serving as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. TEC's Presiding Bishop had no authority to deprive Bishop Scriven of the ministry conferred on him in the Church of England. Bishop Scriven had notified the Presiding Bishop of his transfer back to the Church of England to become an Honorary Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Oxford, subject to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Oxford where he would work as director of a missionary society of the Church of England. Yet, the Presiding Bishop removed him from the ministry-or at a minimum, barred him from TEC.

Abuse of the renunciation, release and removal Canons III.12.7, III.7.8 and III.9.8 violates Canon IV.4.1(g) that requires the Presiding Bishop to exercise her ministry "in accordance with applicable provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Church."

Fourth. Based upon information and belief, the Presiding Bishop violated Canons IV.3.1(a), IV.4.1(h)(8), and I.17.8 by unconstitutionally assuming power to remove members and dissolve a lawfully existing Standing Committee under Canon 1.17.8.

Based upon public reports and an article issued by the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. (ACI), the Presiding Bishop violated Canon IV.3.1(a) with an unconstitutional assumption of power in removing members of the Standing Committee for the Diocese of San Joaquin and dissolving that lawfully existing Standing Committee through misuse of Canon I.17.8. The Constitution and Canons do not grant the Presiding Bishop authority to remove any one from office.

From the ACI article, AAF understands that in 2006, the San Joaquin Diocesan Convention voted to withdraw from TEC to join the Anglican Communion Province of the Southern Cone. The Standing Committee, however, planned to keep the diocese in TEC and operate the diocese under TEC's Constitution and Canons. The Standing Committee President informed the Presiding Bishop of this intent. Nonetheless, the Presiding Bishop notified the President and Standing Committee that she no longer recognized it, dissolved the Committee, and called a Special Convention for the diocese.

Without Canonical authority under Canon I.17.8, the Presiding Bishop dissolved a lawfully constituted Standing Committee and appointed another. She also called a Special Convention to bypass the lawfully existing Standing Committee in the appointment of an Interim Bishop. Both actions appear to be an unconstitutional assumption of power in violation of Canon IV.3.1(a) and Canon IV.4.1(h)(8) for "Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy."

Fifth. Based upon information and belief, the Presiding Bishop may have violated Canons IV.4.1(g) and IV.4.1(h)(8) by harassing Clergy and Abusing Disciplinary Procedures.

Based upon news reports and a Religion News Service article, in 2011 and 2012, nine bishops submitted affidavits or a friend of court brief in pending litigation involving the Dioceses of Quincy and Fort Worth where they basically stated that the ultimate authority of TEC is the diocese. AAF understands that the Presiding Bishop and various bishops caused disciplinary action against the nine bishops that resulted in their agreement to an Accord.

In the RNS article, one bishop said, "All nine of us are processing some degree of anger and are feeling substantially alienated from those who brought the charges against us . . . We feel alienated and victimized. We are nowhere near happy about this outcome, even though we stand by our decision to accept the Accord."

In contrast, there was no objection to twenty-nine bishops who filed a friend of court brief in a secular court in 2013 stating a position contrary to the consensus of the Anglican Communion (of which TEC is a "constituent member"). That consensus is represented by 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10, the "whole church" (BCP 328-329), and the mainstream interpretation of Scripture on the subject.

The disciplinary proceedings against the nine bishops can intimidate other clergy from expressing their expert views. An Accord with the bishops was reached, but that does not necessarily mean there was no undue pressure on the bishops or that they were treated equally with other bishops who have made other filings in secular courts.

For these reasons, the disciplinary action taken against the nine bishops for filing positions in courts may be a violation of Canon 4.1(h)(8) for "Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy" and Canon IV. 4.1(g) for not exercising her ministry in accordance with "Community rule" within the community of bishops. AAF believes these bishops should have a right to believe that if they file an affidavit or friend of court brief in a secular court, they will be treated equally with other bishops according to fundamental fairness.

Sixth. Based upon information and belief, the Presiding Bishop wrongfully (1) claimed that a bishop of South Carolina had abandoned communion with TEC and (2) established a replacement bishop and diocesan machinery to operate the diocese, both of which violated Canons IV.3.1(a), IV.4.1(h)(8), and IV.16(A).

Based upon news reports and an Open Letter to the Bishops by the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) dated November 27, 2012, with "Appendix: A Comprehensive Assault on a Diocese," the Presiding Bishop wrongfully caused Abandonment of Communion charges to be made against the Bishop of South Carolina when the Bishop was keeping the diocese "intact and in TEC."

The ACI Letter reported that "The evidence is overwhelming that [TEC] violated canons and engaged in discussions deceitfully. We disagree with those who accept the evidence, but think the matter inconsequential. If our leaders will not follow the canons and formal procedures of the church, not only in letter but in spirit, they forfeit any trust they may hold and undermine the mutual trust of the church as a whole. We disagree with those who think that such disregard of letter and spirit is merited by the misbehavior of [the Bishop of South Carolina]. Canonical violation and deceit will never produce peace in the church or render a just outcome."

From the ACI Letter to the Bishops, these actions appear to violate (1) Canon IV.3.1(a) for "knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church or of any Diocese;" (2) Canon IV.4.1(h)(8) for "Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy," and (3) Canon IV.16(A) which requires for Abandonment of The Episcopal Church (i) "an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church [not this Church - see Second Offense];" (ii) "formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same;" or (iii) "exercising Episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the Church or another church in communion with the Church."


The AAF is calling for an immediate investigation into these reported violations to determine whether this information, if true, constitutes offenses that should be forwarded to the Reference Panel (Canon IV.6.4-10). The secular lawsuits are continuing. One lawsuit was filed by the Diocese of Chicago as recently as November 6, 2013.

There can be little doubt that most Episcopalians are deeply troubled by this litigation and want TEC to put an end to the madness of Christians suing Christians and wasting millions of dollars of church funds. The parishioners and clergy departing TEC are not mean-spirited people in an "organization who wants to put us out of business" as the Presiding Bishop has reportedly said. To the contrary, they are fellow Christians who are faithful people acting out of Christian conscience. They should not be subject to wolves in the Episcopate (Mt. 7:15; Acts 20:29)

There website can be seen here: http://www.usanglicanfellowship.com/


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