Committee set to review accusation against San Joaquin bishop
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Monday, July 31, 2006
[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church's Title IV Review Committee is preparing to deal with accusations that Diocese of San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield has abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.
Bishops J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, Jerry M. Lamb of Northern California, James R. Mathes of San Diego and then-diocesan William E. Swing of California sent the letter to Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina in mid-July. The letter cites Canon 9 of Title IV of the church's canons, entitled "Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop."
Henderson, the senior bishop among the members of the 2007-2009 Review Committee, said July 31 he was not comfortable releasing the substance of the letter.
"There is a provision that is pretty clear dealing with the other kinds of misconduct that says that all of the matters related to a presentment will be confidential. That provision does not appear in Canon 9, but I am not sure whether that is oversight or intentional—but I feel that, unless the whole committee makes a decision otherwise, this ought to be confidential as well, unless I have the release–and I will ask them—of Bishop Schofield and the others," Henderson said.
Various websites and blogs had been speculating in recent days about such an investigation and what it might entail, up to and including a presentment and ecclesiastical trial.
"It is not a presentment," Henderson said. "It is not dealt with in the same sense that other misconduct would be dealt with."
It has been reported elsewhere that the bishops claimed evidence of abandonment in San Joaquin's action at its last diocesan convention, when it changed its constitution to qualify its agreement to submit to the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons. Article V, Section 1, of the Constitution says that a diocese's constitution must accede to that of the Episcopal Church.
At its last convention, the diocese changed its constitution to read that the diocese would accede "to the extent that such terms and provisions, and any amendments thereto, adopted by the authority of the General Convention, are not inconsistent with the terms and provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of San Joaquin..."
Henderson said that the members of the 2003-2006 Review Committee have unfinished business from the just completed triennium and thus Bishop Charles Keyser is still chairing the committee. Henderson said he and Keyser have agreed to have the two committees meet at the same time and in the same place, as soon as the former committee receives a report of an investigation initiated as a result of a previously filed allegation. That allegation has nothing to do with Schofield, Henderson said.
A news release on San Joaquin's website says that "the [diocese's] Chancellors have already responded to the initial allegations by challenging the appropriateness of the specific Canon Law [IV.9] being used to bring charges."
"In short, these allegations are neither relevant nor justified," the short statement concludes.
Henderson said he has received a letter from the San Joaquin chancellor and has replied indicating that the 2006-2009 committee would meet for organizational purposes in August or September, and that he told Swing the same thing.
Title IV, Canon 9 says that a bishop abandons the communion of the Episcopal Church if he or she takes one of the following actions:
* open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of the Church;
* formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the
* exercising episcopal acts [Holy Orders and Confirmation] in and for a religious body other than the Episcopal Church or another Church in communion with the Church ...without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in the Church.
Read the full text of Title IV Canon 9.
Other canons in Title IV deal with other misconduct on the part of bishops, such as crime, immorality, holding or teaching doctrine contrary to that of the Church, violating the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, violating the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church or of a bishop's diocese and violating one's ordination vows.
If the committee determines by a majority vote that Schofield has, in fact, abandoned the Communion of the Church under the terms of Canon 9, it must certify its decision to the Presiding Bishop. If the three senior bishops having jurisdiction consent, the Presiding Bishop must then inhibit Schofield "until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act," according to the canon.
During that time, Schofield could not exercise any episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts except those related to the "administration of the temporal affairs" of his diocese.
The three senior bishops are Leo Frade of Southeast Florida, Peter Lee of Virginia and Don Wimberly of Texas.
Schofield would have two months from the time he receives notice of the committee's certification and the inhibition to declare in a "verified written statement" that the facts alleged in the committee's certification. If he does not make such a declaration, the canon says, he will be liable to deposition, or removal from office.
If Schofield did supply the statement and the Presiding Bishop believed it to be a "good faith retraction of the declarations or act relied upon in the certification" or a "good faith denial" that the bishop made the declarations or committed the acts, the inhibition could be ended by the Presiding Bishop, with the three senior bishops' consent.
Otherwise, the Presiding Bishop must present the matter to the House of Bishops at its next regular or special meeting. If a majority of the bishops entitled to vote gives its consent, the Presiding Bishop must depose the bishop.
The appointments to the 2007-2009 Title IV Review Committee were Suffragan Bishop Bavi E. Rivera of Olympia, Suffragan Bishop David C. Jones of Virginia, Bishop C. Wallis Ohl Jr. of Northwest Texas, the Rev. Carolyn Kuhr of Montana, the Very Rev. Scott Kirby of Eau Claire, J.P. Causey Jr. of Virginia and Deborah J. Stokes of Southern Ohio. Causey, Kirby, Kuhr and Stokes served on the 2003-2006 Review Committee.
-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.