Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA
March 15, 2004
By their recent action in the Diocese of Ohio, five of our retired bishops and a bishop from the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil have arrogated to themselves the right to perform episcopal and sacramental acts without the permission of the diocesan bishop. The claim that their action was pastoral and in accordance with a mandate from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Anglican Communion is contradicted by the statement of the Primates last October which states quite clearly that they, "reaffirm the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own," and that they "call on the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care," and that they should do so "in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates."
Provisions for "episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities" is thus clearly a matter to be resolved by the province. That is precisely what this church is seeking to do. In consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his chancellor, our bishops have been considering a draft plan for episcopal pastoral care which they will address further when we gather for our spring meeting later this week in Texas.
With respect to this forthcoming meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a recent letter to me, "My hope and prayer is that this meeting will offer generous and constructive ways forward within the constitutional and canonical structures of ECUSA that will guarantee Episcopal care for all and avoid further fragmentation, and the consequent distraction from our main task of proclaiming Christ."
What is quite clear is that whatever pastoral response is agreed to, it must, as the Archbishop points out, be consistent with the "constitutional and canonical structures of ECUSA." Here I note that according to our Constitution:
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.[Article II,Sec.3]
Why, I am moved to ask, did these bishops decide that Confirmation of these persons was pastorally necessary at this moment and act without permission of the Bishop of Ohio? Given that the House of Bishops will meet later this week, I can only surmise that their intention is to co-opt the bishops' agenda and provoke a reaction that will appear sufficiently lacking in pastoral concern for "dissenting minorities" to justify what they have done in the eyes of others.
I trust that they will be disappointed in their hope and that the vast majority of bishops of this church--occupying the diverse center--will find a way forward that is clear and just in its principles, pastoral in its approach and responsive to the needs of the church in this present moment.