A group of our area clergy were meeting with the Bishop the other day — a sort of news-and-sharing session that we have a couple of times a year — and the subject of various aspects of Adventures in Anglicanland came up. A number of us expressed some unease at the “rush toward deposition” that seems to be underway (and for a lot of observers in the Church it is not a moment too soon). As nearly as I could tell, no one had any sympathy with any of the Usual Suspects; the issue was whether deposition, especially on the charge of abandoning the communion of this church, is the best way to deal with them.
One of our members was formerly (and still is, part-time) a professor of a biomedical science in the University, and as such she not only taught but also directed a research laboratory (with NIH funding). Thus she has experience managing a staff, and understands the ins and outs of human resources. (To the extent anyone does!) She briefly recounted an instance in which a staff member was seriously “not with the program” and was erratic in issues like attendance, taking unapproved time off, etc. After several efforts to address this unacceptable pattern, the lab management staff finally wrote to this employee, stating specifically, “If you are not at work on such-and-such a day at such-and-such a time, or submit in advance a clearly acceptable excuse, we will interpret that as your resignation from your position.” In this case the employee did not comply with the given direction, was declared to have resigned, and (despite a brief protest by the employee) the Human Resources offices of the College and the University sustained the department’s action.
This was very similar to some issues my wife has had to deal with. She is the director of a child care center, operated by an international child care chain under contract from the University Hospital. Most of her staff are hardworking, caring preschool teachers. But occasionally one of her people will “not be with the program,” and not respond appropriately to repeated (and documented) correction. At this point my wife will instruct the staff member that further failure to conform to expectations will be interpreted as resignation. (All of this is done not only with the knowledge and approval of the national human resources office, but with their advice and counsel.) “Oh, no, I didn’t really want to resign!” is generally regarded as “too late, too bad.”
Well, now the Episcopal Church has a bishop (with two or three or four more standing in line) who has purported to leave the Episcopal Church and to take his diocese with him, submitting to the jurisdiction of a different Anglican province. This bishop has been charged with abandoning the communion of this church and has been inhibited, with the consent of the three senior diocesan bishops in the Church. (Note: the canons mean “the communion of this church,” namely, the Episcopal Church, not just “the communion of any church.” A different Anglican province does not count, except by explicit authorization by the General Convention. The Sons and Daughters of I Will Arise don’t count, either.) Presumably this bishop’s deposition will be voted by the House of Bishops next month. Meanwhile another bishop has also been charged with abandoning the communion, though the gun is not smoking as much and this bishop has not been inhibited, although he is still subject to deposition by the House of Bishops. And, as I indicated, there are other bishops waiting in the wings.
Although the pending instances probably should just proceed to their conclusion, I wonder if it might not be wiser in the future to avoid the “abandonment” road (which in any case was not really designed for this kind of situation) and instead for the PB simply to state, after due formal notice (as she has given in these situations), that certain behaviors, such as attempting or purporting to abscond with one’s diocese to the Sons and Daughters, or whoever, will constitute resignation from one’s see, effective immediately. No claim is made at this point about deposition from holy orders. The bishop in this case simply becomes a “resigned bishop,” or, probably in this case, a “resigned but fussing and whining bishop.” (The House of Bishops has to accept the resignation, but I believe that farther than three months out from a HOB meeting, it can be done by correspondence.) Since the resignation is not for reason of age, disability, national office, or mission strategy as determined by the General Convention or the House of Bishops, the bishop would no longer have seat and vote in the House, particularly if the bishop were to become a member of the House of Bishops of another province. It would still be possible down the line, if it seems appropriate, to charge the bishop with violations of the canons and of ordination vows, but in the meanwhile the bishop is out of office without the untidiness of formal charges. Anyone who wants to go with the bishop to wherever the bishop is going may do so, but they have to leave the diocese and its parishes behind. The diocese can then get on with electing a new bishop to lead them in their mission. In short, the bishop is not deposed, but the bishop ceases to be Our Problem.
I am reminded of the gangster Al Capone, who by all accounts was guilty of multiple murders in Chicago in the late 20’s and early 30’s. But the state could not prove those charges, so the federal government successfully prosecuted him for evasion of income tax. Not very satisfying, but under the circumstances it did the job.
On the other hand, a small voice in the back of my mind keeps whispering, “Why don’t you just take these bozos out behind the barn and thrash them soundly?” A better voice immediately intervenes, “No! No! We can’t do that! WWJD?” And then a third voice comes from somewhere up there, “”Well, at least not yet, anyway.”