Admiral of Morality: Did Via Media Concerns Prompt Chancellor's Letter?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Did Via Media Concerns Prompt Chancellor's Letter?

It may be that a letter sent by Fort Worth Via Media to PB Frank Griswold and others, on July 7th 2006, triggered the move by the current Presiding Bishop.

The Via Media letter, sent to PB Griswold, PB-Elect Jefferts-Schori, and The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, stated in part:

"We are writing as members of Fort Worth Via Media in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth to state our desire and determination that our diocese continue to remain a part of The Episcopal Church under the leadership of the Presiding Bishop and Primate. We are looking for information, advice and guidance as to how we should best proceed in order to achieve this goal.

Here are questions that have been raised by many faithful Episcopalians in Fort Worth:
* Statements and actions of Bishop Jack L. Iker and the Standing Committee in the wake of General Convention 2006, especially their request for alternate primatial oversight, increase the estrangement and isolation of our diocese from the national church. Our research has revealed no mechanism whereby alternate primatial oversight can be offered to a diocese. How worried should we be that faithful Episcopalians in this diocese might one day find themselves under a primate from another Anglican Province, just as we found ourselves all made members of The Anglican Communion Network?

* Article One of our Diocesan Constitution [Authority of General Convention] was revised in 1997 to read "The Church in this Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and recognizes the authority of the General Convention of said Church provided that no action of General Convention which is contrary to Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Teaching of the Church shall be of any force or effect in this Diocese." At what point does this apparent denial of the authority of General Convention lead to an abandonment of the Communion?

* Canon 18 on Title to Property was changed in October of 1987 to read [in part]: "Sec. 18.1 The Title to all property now owned and hereafter acquired by the Diocesan Corporation for its use and benefit and for the use and benefit of Parishes, Missions and Diocesan Institutions shall be held in the name of said Corporation and may only be conveyed or encumbered with the approval of the Board of Trustees and in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. . . . Sec. 18.4 Property held by the Corporation for the use of a Parish, Mission or Diocesan School belongs beneficially to such Parish, Mission or Diocesan School only. No adverse claim to such beneficial interest by the Corporation, by the Diocese, or by The Episcopal Church of the United States of America is acknowledged, but rather is expressly denied. All other property of the Corporation held for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth for those exempt religious purposes within the meaning of the Internal Revenue Code, as herein above described. Such exempt religious purposes shall be those determined by the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and the appropriate officers elected by it. No adverse claim to such beneficial interest by The Episcopal Church of the United States of America is acknowledged, but rather is expressly denied." Do the national property canons take precedence over the local canons? What does this mean in terms of ownership of property should Bishop Iker attempt to take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church by placing us under the authority of another Province?"

The text of the letter from the Episcopal Chancellor has now been published on Thinking Anglicans, courtesy of Christopher Cantrell+ of the Diocese of Fort Worth. The letter is short, so the full thing is reprinted here:

"Several persons have told me recently that they believe that your diocese, within the past few or several years, has amended its Constitution in some way that can be read as cutting against an "unqualified accession" to the Constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. First of all, could you please send me a copy of your Constitution so that I can have first-hand knowledge on this score.

Second, if your diocese has indeed adopted such an amendment, then, on behalf of the Presiding Bishop, I want to express the hope that your diocese will promptly begin the process of amending its Constitution to declare clearly an "unqualified accession" as Article V of the Church's Constitution plainly requires. If your diocese should decline to take that step, the Presiding Bishop will have to consider what sort of action she must take in order to bring your diocese into compliance.

With warm regards,
David Booth Beers"

Note the wording of the first paragraph, where the chancellor indicates that he has been informed by "several persons," of the questionable changes to the Fort Worth constitution.

Obviously, it would not take a person informing Mr. Beers that these changes had taken place, per se, for him to be aware of them. Rather, a person or persons in the diocese of Fort Worth informing him, might then trigger an investigation of it. In legal terms, that group within the diocese who might be interested in challenging the changes, would have standing to do so in courts with jurisdiction in the diocese's geographical region. The Episcopal Church proper, could then assist in challenging such changes.

It was a group within the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in fact, led by Calvary Church, that succesfully stopped the Network bishop, Robert Duncan, from making changes to the constitution that would have paved the way for him to unilaterally remove property from the diocese.

It might be a good idea for the Presiding Bishop and the Chancellor to shed more light on the issue of the letters. But then again, doing so might involve compromising confidences and trusts, and expose legal strategies that might not want to be exposed at this time.

Bishop Iker's claim that he was "shocked" by the letters is disingenuous at best. Fort Worth Via Media apparently for quite some time, has been sending reams of documents to the Bishop questioning his actions undermining the diocese.

They can be viewed here.


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