Canons or conscience?

Bishop Peter Lee of the Diocese of Virginia, acting in accordance with national and local diocesan canons deposed 21 priests of his diocese earlier this week. The 21 clergy are no longer recognized as being priests of the Diocese of Virginia, and thus by the Canons of the national Episcopal Church, as priests of the Episcopal Church.

In response, five bishops who are associated with the Anglican Communion Network in the United States have announced that they will not honor Bishop Lee’s pronouncement of a “godly judgement”. They claim that the deposed priests are still in good standing within the Anglican Communion and are free to function as priests in their respective dioceses.

Mark Harris, has an excellent analysis of the situation and notes, along with others, that this may well put the Anglican Communion into violation of the canons of the Episcopal Church:

“[The] five bishops are the core of the Network on its way to being a new church. They have already abandoned attentive engagement with the Canons of The Episcopal Church.

There are other signs of this abandonment: The Moderator stated in his address to the ACN Annual Meeting,

‘The Network Bishops have agreed to take part in the upcoming meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Primates Steering Committee and Anglican Consultative Council. We do so, some of us at least, without any implied recognition of or submission to the American primate …’ ‘Some at least,’ and I would suggest it is the core five, do not recognize the American Primate. This, of course, also makes it clear that such distinctly canonical matters as the election of the Presiding Bishop are able to be dismissed as well.

Looking at the statement of the core five, One half of the Network Bishops have made it clear that they consider the Canons of the Church to be without merit, at least in this instance.

It is of some interest to note those absent from the list of bishops receiving the 21 priests: Bishops Stanton of Dallas, Bishop Howe of Central Florida, Bishop Steeson of Rio Grande, Bishop Love of Albany, and a bishop for South Carolina.

By the way, NO ONE is a ‘priest in good standing of the Anglican Communion.’ We are priests in good standing in our own churches (Provinces) and at the sufferance of other provinces may exercise ministry there, but we have no rights to do so.”

The bishops of ACN are arguing that the priests in question’s allegiance to “mainstream Anglicanism” means that there is no cause for this deposition. Bishop Lee is stating that their refusal to follow the “godly admonition of their bishop” is proper cause.

(Your “editor o’ the day” makes the following observation: What is particularly interesting in all of this is the way people are making use of the argument that they are willing to abide to the rules of the Church in as much as those rules do not require them to do something they do not wish to do. You can see this happening in different instances on both sides of the debate. What hardly ever happens is that both sides are willing to acknowledge that they are behaving in ultimately the same way as their opposition. Or that their decision to make a decision based on their personal reading of a situation has major implications for our theological understanding of Church.)

Read the rest here.

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