Scot M. Peterson, Vice Chancellor, Diocese of Colorado
Priests under the Pastoral Direction of Foreign Bishops
November 14, 2000
In the past months, priests who are canonically resident in this diocese have notified you that they no longer wish to be under your pastoral direction but wish to be subject to the pastoral direction of putative missionary bishops, who have been ordained by bishops of Rwanda and Singapore1. You have asked for an opinion concerning the proper course of action to be taken concerning clergy who are resident in the Diocese of Colorado but who do not agree that you are their pastoral leader within this diocese.The following sets forth our analysis of the issues that arise from this situation and our recommendation concerning a response to it.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Clergy who have been canonically resident in the diocese of Colorado have sent you letters, purportedly resigning from their positions as rectors of parishes and as members of the clergy in this diocese.In at least one instance, the member of the clergy requested letters dimissory be issued, so that he could become canonically resident in a foreign diocese, even though it was his intention to remain physically in this diocese, as leader of a congregation holding public worship services.In all instances, the missionary bishops, to whom these clergy say they will be reporting in the future, have sent you letters purporting to accept the transfer of the clergy to their pastoral oversight.None of the clergy intend to move physically to the diocese where they wish to be canonically resident.All of the clergy intend to continue to exercise their orders and to do so within the geographical confines of the Diocese of Colorado.The basis for their attempt to transfer their canonical residence is a perception on their part that the Episcopal Church has departed from the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Anglican Church as a whole and that there is a need for missionaries from these foreign dioceses to bring scriptural Christianity to the Episcopal Church.
One important constraint on the authority of clergy is the pastoral direction of their bishop.Canons for the Government of the Episcopal Church, Title III, Canon 14, Section 1(a) (“The authority of and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish are vested in the Rector, subject to . . . the pastoral direction of the Bishop.”).Moreover, the Canons of the Episcopal Church specifically provide that the authority of each bishop is limited to the geographic area of his or her diocese.The Constitution of the Episcopal Church states, “A Bishop shall confine the exercise of such office to the Diocese in which elected, unless requested to perform episcopal acts in another Diocese by the Ecclesiastical Authority thereof, or unless authorized by the House of Bishops, or by the Presiding Bishop by its [i.e. the House of Bishops'] direction, to act temporarily in case of need within any territory not yet organized into Dioceses of this Church.”Constitution for the Government of the Episcopal Church, Article II, Section 3.Based upon this provision of the Constitution, it would be entirely improper for you or a suffragan bishop or a bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Colorado to exercise ecclesiastical authority outside of this diocese. 2 Consistent with the foregoing, it is inconsistent with the American Anglican polity for a bishop from another country to exercise pastoral authority over a member of the clergy resident in this diocese.Moreover, the Canons provide, “No Deacon or Priest shall officiate more than two months by preaching, administering the Sacraments, or holding any public service, within the limits of any Diocese other than the one in which the Deacon or Priest is canonically resident, without a license from the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Deacon or Priest desires to officiate.”Title III, Canon 16, Section 2.
canonical limitations, in their substantive outline, are universally recognized
by all churches claiming continuity with catholic church polity.They
are found explicated in the earliest canons of the church, e.g. those of
the Council of Nicea in the fourth century3.
They have been accepted over the centuries as a necessary means for avoiding
the turmoil and scandal of vying authorities, for promoting charity through
mutual subjection, and for removing the potential for the chaotic activities
of self-serving bishops and clergy4.
They were explicitly confirmed at the 1988 Lambeth Conference, which passed
a resolution stating, “This Conference . . . reaffirms its unity in the
historical position of respect for diocesan boundaries and the authority
of bishops within these boundaries; and . . . affirms that it is deemed
inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise
episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining
the permission and invitation of the ecclesial authority thereof.”5
This resolution was explicitly reaffirmed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference6.
Thus these canons not only constitute the organic law of the Episcopal
Church but also comprise the American formulation of the principles that
underlie the Anglican Polity in general, whether the principles are explicitly
adumbrated in a particular province or not.
the Episcopal Church recognizes the authority of bishops within their geographical
diocese but limits their authority (and the authority of their clergy)
to their diocese, except in special circumstances. Acknowledging the authority
of foreign missionary bishops from Rwanda and Singapore within the Diocese
of Colorado and permitting priests canonically resident in those dioceses
to exercise their orders in this diocese would undercut these fundamental
principles of Episcopal canon law, and of the general Anglican Polity as
ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATION
Other dioceses are addressing similar situations by applying Title IV, Canon 10 of the Canons to withdrawing priests who seek extraterritorial pastoral leadership.That canon addresses clergy who abandon the communion of this church.We see several fundamental problems with applying that canon under the present circumstances.First, even though the priests who wish to be subject to the putative missionary bishops are acting inconsistently with the canons of the Episcopal Church, they arguably have not left the Anglican communion.Thus, one can question, as Bishop Wantland has done, whether this canon applies.Second, a mechanical application at this time of Title IV, Canon 10 shows a lack of due regard for the actions of the foreign bishops, The Most Rev. Emmanuel Kolini and The Most Rev.Datuk Yong Ping Chung, in overseeing and recognizing the consecrations of the putative missionary bishops.Although the regularity of the putative missionary bishops’ orders may be in dispute, those ordaining them remain a part of the communion.Thus, while we question the authority of the missionary bishops, it seems to us improper at the outset to assert that the clergy have abandoned the entire Anglican Communion.Third, the end result of action under this canon is either deposition of the priest or a release of the priest from his or her ordination vows.Such action gives rise to an argument about whether the individual is “really” a member of the clergy or not.Such an argument, dealing as it does with complex theological matters, may have little meaning, especially for the members of the priest’s congregation.Deposition may also make martyrs of the departing clergy, thereby giving them additional credibility in the eyes of some.Finally, imposing sanctions on the priests under Title IV, Canon 10 puts the bishop of the diocese in a position of direct conflict with the priest, but does not directly engage the question of the authority of the bishops to whom the priest is pastorally responsible.We believe that the dispute over polity is actually between you and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, where the departing clergy reside, on the one hand, and the primates in Rwanda and Singapore, on the other.
Instead of imposing sanctions on the clergy under Title IV, Canon 10, we recommend that you issue letters dimissory under Title III, Canon 16, transferring the withdrawing priests’ canonical residence to the Diocese of Rwanda or of Singapore (whichever is agreed upon or requested by the withdrawing priest and/or his or her proposed ecclesiastical authority).By doing that, you comply with the wishes of the withdrawing priest and make it possible for him or her to report to an ecclesiastical authority whose authority the priest and the communion recognize, that is, the bishop or primate, to whom the putative missionary bishop reports7 Issuing letters dimissory also mitigates your potential legal liability for any conduct on the part of the withdrawing priest, because you will no longer be responsible for his or her supervision.At the same time you issue the letters dimissory, however, we also recommend that you invoke the provisions of Title III, Canon 16, Section 2, which provides,
No Deacon or Priest shall officiate more than two months by preaching, ministering the Sacraments, or holding any public service, within the limits of any Diocese other than that in which the Deacon or Priest is canonically resident, without a license from the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Deacon or Priest desires to officiate.
We recommend that you write to the primate and diocesan bishop of the relevant diocese, either Singapore or Rwanda, and not the putative missionary bishop (whose legitimate status remains unresolved within the communion), to state that you will not permit withdrawing clergy to exercise their orders in this diocese beyond the two-month limit, based upon the inconsistency of any such priest's exercise of his or her orders with the polity of the Episcopal Church, as set forth above.We recommend that you state that if they continue to do so, you may choose to inhibit them pursuant to Title IV, Canon 7, Section 2, which provides,
If a Priest or Deacon . . . while temporarily in any Diocese, shall so offend the Bishop of that Diocese, upon probable cause, may Admonish or Inhibit the Priest or Deacon from officiating in that Diocese. And if, after Inhibition, the Priest or Deacon so officiate, the Bishop shall give notice to all the Clergy and Congregations in that Diocese that the officiating of the Priest or Deacon is inhibited; and like notice shall be given to the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Priest or Deacon is canonically resident, and to the Recorder. The Inhibition shall continue in force until the soonest of (i) the Bishop dissolves the Inhibition, (ii) the Standing Committee assuming jurisdiction thereof votes not to issue a Presentment, or (iii) if presented, the Presentment is dismissed.
This notice of possible inhibition should not be construed as a threat but rather as a clear statement, not only of the Episcopal Church’s, but also of the Anglican Communion’s commonly accepted polity and order, with which all Anglican clergy are expected to comply.
We believe that proceeding under this canon avoids the abstract theological debate over whether the priest is still a priest.Although such debates can be useful under some circumstances, we do not believe that this issue can be productive (for either side) in the present confrontation. Moreover, we believe that the issuance of letters dimissory eliminates responsibility for the supervision of the withdrawing clergy (and thereby any liability for their conduct) from this diocese.Proceeding under this canon does not depend on whether the member of the clergy remains a member of the Anglican communion, and therefore the argument about whether or not the priest has abandoned the communion, as required by Title IV, Canon 10, is mooted, and your actions will show due regard for the recognized primates and/or diocesan bishops who are responsible for the withdrawing clergy, while not requiring a recognition of the authority of the putative missionary bishops, which is under dispute in the communion.Finally, and most importantly, proceeding under this canon will not necessarily involve direct conflict with the withdrawing priests but potentially only with the primate or diocesan bishop, to whom the withdrawing priests are ultimately responsible.We believe that this approach is consistent with the measured authority that is appropriate within the Anglican polity.We believe that a future, faithful resolution of the various conflicts within the Episcopal Church and among the various churches in the communion will depend on such a balance of mutual respect, order and hope.
The issue confronting you is serious, and we see it both as potentially divisive and as a potential opportunity to reinforce the Anglican polity.We believe that the foregoing recommendation would accomplish your objective of preserving the proper boundaries of the Anglican churches, while at the same time acknowledging the authority of the consecrating bishops from other Anglican churches.Most importantly of all, this course of action would be consistent with the limitations on your own authority within your diocese and would not require you to make broad, overarching judgments about whether or not a member of the clergy had abandoned the Anglican communion, which could unduly strain the limitations on that authority.We hope that you will seriously consider this proposal.
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