Editor’s note: In February, the Dar es Salaam Communique from the Primates of the Anglican Communion created uncertainty in the Episcopal Church about what individuals or bodies had the authority to respond to the Primates’ recommendations. The Episcopal Church’s response has been made, but the nature of authority in our Church remains poorly understood. Below, Sally Johnson, chancellor to Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, lays out her opinion in the summary of a more detailed memo tht can be found here.
Summary of Authority in The Episcopal Church as it Relates to the Demands of the February 2007 Primates Communiqué
Prepared March 2007. Following review and comments, released for wider distribution, December, 2007.
Following is a summary of document “Discussion of Authority in the Episcopal Church and the Dar es Salaam Primates Communiqué of February 2007”. This summary is prepared by Sally Johnson, Chancellor, at the request of the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson. In analyzing the “role, responsibilities and potential response of the Executive Council” to the Communiqué, and especially in light of the House of Bishops Resolution to the Executive Council on the Pastoral Scheme, it was necessary to carefully review and consider Executive Council’s authority, role and responsibilities in relationship to the authority of the Presiding Bishop and the House of Bishops.
The Communiqué asked the House of Bishops to take two actions prior to
September 30, 2007:
make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, Para. 143, 144)
confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General
Convention means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent …unless “some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, Para 134).
The Communiqué also purports to establish a “Pastoral Scheme,” consisting of a Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar, to work with congregations and dioceses in The Episcopal Church who do not agree with the actions of General Convention regarding the consecration of Bishop Robinson and the blessing of same-sex unions. This portion of the Communiqué is lengthy, complicated, and stated in generalities rather than specifics.
Some of the aspects of the Pastoral Scheme include:
A Pastoral Council that would act on behalf of the Primates made up of two persons nominated by the Primates, two appointed by the Presiding Bishop, and a Primate appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair the Council;
The Council would work “in cooperation with The Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop and the leadership of the bishops participating in the scheme proposed below” to negotiate structures for pastoral care complying with the Windsor Report and the Primates’ requests in the Lambeth Statement of October 2003, authorize protocols for the functioning of such a scheme, including the criteria for participation of bishops, dioceses and congregations and take whatever reasonable action is needed to give effect to this scheme and report to the Primates;
The Pastoral Council and the Presiding Bishop would invite bishops expressing a commitment to “the Camp Allen principles” to participate in the Pastoral Scheme;
The participating bishops, in consultation with the Pastoral Council and with the consent of the Presiding Bishop, would nominate a Primatial Vicar responsible to the Council. The Presiding Bishop in consultation with the Pastoral Council would delegate specific powers and duties to the Primatial Vicar.
The Communiqué also urged that all litigation over property in The Episcopal Church be suspended, subject to several conditions.
The House of Bishops March 2007 Response
The House of Bishops took three actions in response to the Communiqué.
It adopted the statement, “To the Archbishop of Canterbury and the members of the Primates’ Standing Committee” stating that “[a]lthough we are unable to accept the proposed Pastoral Scheme, we declare our passionate desire to remain in full constituent membership in both the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church and inviting the Archbishop and members of the Primates’ Standing Committee to join the House of Bishops for three days of prayer and conversation at the earliest possible opportunity.
It adopted “A Statement from the House of Bishops- March 20, 2007” which gave five reasons the Pastoral Scheme would be injurious to the Church. It would violate our church law in that it calls for a delegation of primatial authority not permitted under our Canons and compromises our autonomy not permitted under the Constitution, it would change the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process, it would violate our founding principles after our liberation from colonialism and it would depart from our English Reformation heritage in abandoning the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition and sacrifice “the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops;”
It adopted a “Mind of the House of Bishops Resolution Addressed to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church” urging the Executive Council decline to participate in the Pastoral Scheme.
Authority in the Episcopal Church
Authority of the General Convention
The General Convention holds all authority in The Episcopal Church other than the limitation that it cannot change the Core Doctrine of the Church. It has delegated various responsibilities and authority to a number of bodies and offices in the Church. The General Convention is the only body authorized to amend the Constitution, Canons and Book of Common Prayer. No other body or office holder in the Church can take action that binds the Church on a subject covered by the Constitution, Canons, or Book of Common Prayer. Only General Convention can pass resolutions that bind the Church. No other body or office holder in the Church can make a binding interpretation of the Constitution, Canons, Book of Common Prayer or General Convention resolutions. The General Convention can amend the Canons, set policy or otherwise direct whether and in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected.
Authority of the Executive Council
The Executive Council’s primary duty is to “carry out the program and policies adopted by the General Convention. The Executive Council shall have charge of the coordination, development and implementation of the ministry and mission of the Church.” In its capacity as the Board of Directors of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society it has the power to direct the disposition of the moneys and other property of said Society in accordance with the provisions of the Canons and the orders and budgets adopted or approved by the General Convention. The Executive Council is granted extensive authority to act for the Church between General Conventions but it is not vested with all of the powers of General Convention.
In terms of the Primates’ requests the Executive Council does not have the authority to prohibit the blessing of same sex unions. Bishops Diocesan have the authority under the Constitution and Book of Common Prayer to authorize forms of worship in their own dioceses. The Constitution and Book of Common Prayer would have to be amended to take that authority away from Bishops Diocesan. General Convention has the authority to authorize other forms of worship and the Constitution would have to be amended to take that authority away from it.
The Executive Council does not have any authority to make, change or issue a binding interpretation of a General Convention resolution such as B033. The Constitution and Canons would have to be amended to prohibit persons living in same sex unions from becoming bishops because the requirements and limitations on who may hold that office are in the Constitution and Canons.
The Executive Council does not have the authority to authorize any portions of the Pastoral Scheme. The Constitution and Canons would have to be amended to authorize the structures and delegation of authority contemplated by the Pastoral Scheme.
In the absence of action by General Convention the Executive Council can set policy or otherwise direct whether or in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected.
Authority of the Presiding Bishop
The responsibilities and authority of the Presiding Bishop can generally be divided into several broad categories. The Presiding Bishop makes appointments to various Church bodies and positions and fills vacancies, has responsibilities regarding bishops in the Church including overseeing the election of bishops, deciding who will consecrate them, overseeing the resignation or removal of bishops for non-disciplinary reasons, and taking certain actions in the ecclesiastical discipline process of bishops. The Presiding Bishop has responsibilities for unusual congregations and ministries, reports annually to the Church, speaks God’s Word to the Church and to the world as the representative of The Episcopal Church and has responsibility for leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy of the Church. She presides over the House of Bishops and Joint Sessions of General Convention, is the President of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and the President, Chair and chief executive officer of the Executive Council.
“The office of Presiding Bishop is a constitutional office, the tenure and duties of which are prescribed by canons, and he has no duties or powers save as so prescribed.” Annotated Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (“Annotated Constitution and Canons”, p. 203.)
The Presiding Bishop’s authority to delegate her responsibilities to others is limited to choosing a bishop of The Episcopal Church to act in her stead as one of the three bishops of The Episcopal Church to act as chief consecrators at the consecration of a bishop and to delegating some functions “prescribed in these Canons” to persons in “positions established by the Executive Council.”
In terms of the Primates’ requests the Presiding Bishop does not have the authority to prohibit Bishops Diocesan from authorizing the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses nor can she prohibit future General Conventions from authorizing such blessings.
The Presiding Bishop cannot change or make a binding interpretation of a General Convention resolution such as B033.
The Presiding Bishop does not have the authority to approve any parts of the Pastoral Scheme because the Constitution and Canons would have to be amended to implement it. Although she could appoint two persons to the Pastoral Council, she should decline to do so because she does not have the authority to delegate any of her duties or responsibilities to the proposed Pastoral Council.
In the absence of action by General Convention or the Executive Council the Presiding Bishop can set policy or otherwise direct whether or in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected.
Authority of the House of Bishops
The authority of the House of Bishops to take actions that bind the Church at meetings between General Conventions or at General Convention without the concurrence of the House of Deputies is quite limited. It may, for example, consent to bishops’ resignations, elect bishops for non-diocesan ministries, including the Presiding Bishop, and for dioceses upon request of the diocese, establish Missions within the boundaries of The Episcopal Church but outside diocesan boundaries, call special meetings of General Convention, and take some actions in the ecclesiastical disciplinary process of bishops.
In terms of the Primates’ requests the House of Bishops does not have the authority to prohibit the authorization of blessings of same sex unions by Bishops Diocesan within their own dioceses nor can it prohibit future General Conventions from authorizing such Rites.
It cannot change or make a binding interpretation of a General Convention resolution such as B033.
The House of Bishops does not have the authority to approve any parts of the Pastoral Scheme or to amend any parts of the Constitution or Canons that would need to be changed to implement it.
The House of Bishops has no authority to set policy or otherwise direct whether or in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected other than as a bishop may have authority to set policy or make decisions within his or her own diocese.
Sally Johnson is the chancellor to Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies.