November 27, 2012
To the Bishops of the Episcopal Church:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This is a painful letter. It is painful because it concerns un-canonical (and perhaps even unlawful) actions on the part of our Presiding Bishop and her associates. These actions, detailed in the attached appendix and summarized in the bullet points below, have already undermined the good order and spiritual health of our church. We write to you our Bishops because of your responsibility for that good order. We write as Presbyters who have in one way or another faithfully served our church for over half a century. We pray that, despite the painful nature of the story we place before you, you will listen to what we have to say with a clear and open mind.
We urge you, therefore, to take careful note of the following points that are more fully spelled out in our appendix. We urge you further to take the necessary steps to restore the good order of our church.
Three years ago, the Presiding Bishop began an extraordinary and unconstitutional intervention in the internal affairs of the Diocese of South Carolina. She hired a South Carolina lawyer, Thomas Tisdale, who held himself out as “South Carolina counsel for The Episcopal Church” and appeared to be gathering evidence for a disciplinary case against Bishop Lawrence. That is not our judgment in hindsight; it was Bishop Lawrence’s understanding at the time: “the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, if not the Presiding Bishop herself, is seeking to build a case against the Ecclesiastical Authorities of the Diocese.”
Mr. Tisdale indicated he intended to scrutinize the internal administration of the Diocese on an ongoing basis for the Presiding Bishop, including reviewing recent ordinations, the actions of the Standing Committee, convention resolutions and especially the property arrangements of the Diocese’s parishes.
The Presiding Bishop advised the Executive Council at the outset of Mr. Tisdale’s activities in the Diocese that she had hired him so that those who wish “to stay Episcopalians there have some representation on behalf of the larger church.” She thereby lent her office and legal counsel to the small number of internal dissenters, numbering no more than 10-15%, who opposed Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese. This group subsequently made four or possibly five presentations to various bodies within TEC seeking to have Bishop Lawrence investigated for abandonment and action taken against the Diocese. Their fifth attempt was successful, but only at the cost of the entire Diocese.
The dissenters seeking to remove Bishop Lawrence communicated several times with church bodies, mostly through a lawyer who is a fellow parishioner of Mr. Tisdale’s and is a legal advisor with him to the interim steering committee he organized at the Presiding Bishop’s request.
The actions of church bodies over the last three years have been disgraceful and at times farcical. At the dissenters’ request, a standing committee of the Executive Council considered canons passed by the Diocese and opined that they were null and void without ever informing the Diocese they were considering the issue. The Council immediately informed the lawyer for the dissenters of this action, but did not communicate it to the Diocese until asked to do so much later by the lawyer. The Church Center then clumsily added “cc’s” in a different type font and mailed the Diocese a letter that had been sent two and a half months earlier to the lawyer. This suggests the purpose of the Executive Council’s actions was not the orderly administration of the church’s affairs but assisting the dissenters in making their legal case against Bishop Lawrence.
Mr. Tisdale was apparently asked by the Presiding Bishop “a few months ago” to form a “transition group” before the Disciplinary Board had even acted and before Bishop Lawrence was even aware that it was once again reviewing abandonment charges against him. This committee had been largely formed and was waiting to be announced when the abandonment certification was made public. The initial announcements of the interim structure were made immediately: “an Interim Bishop will be appointed by the Presiding Bishop”; “a transition team has been put in place by the Presiding Bishop.” There is also evidence that some steps were taken to plan for civil litigation during the period before the Disciplinary Board had even acted.
Bishop Lawrence first learned of the most recent abandonment proceeding on October 15, when the Presiding Bishop informed him that he had been certified and would be restricted. Later that day the diocesan chancellor received by email unsigned copies of the certification and restriction. To this day, Bishop Lawrence has never been served with notice as required by TEC’s canons of either document. Accordingly, the 60 day period under the abandonment canon has not yet begun and if the canons were being followed no restriction may ever have been in effect—although on this point the relationship between the abandonment canon and the broader Title IV of which it is a part is one the church does not seem to comprehend.
Although TEC takes the position that the Diocese has not withdrawn, its representatives nonetheless claim that there is no ecclesiastical authority in the TEC diocese. But Bishop Lawrence has not been removed as bishop by TEC and the resignation or removal of directors of South Carolina corporations (the Standing Committee’s legal role) requires that specific procedures provided in the state statute or corporate bylaws be followed. None has been. When the TEC faction held a “clergy day” on November 15, the presentation was made by Mr. Tisdale, the Presiding Bishop’s lawyer. He referred questions about remarriage and licensing to Bishop vonRosenberg, but these are matters for the diocesan bishop. Although they are trying to skirt the canons formally, the reality is that the Presiding Bishop, through her lawyer and the committee he organized, is now running a TEC diocese in South Carolina without any canonical authorization.
Bishop Lawrence’s pastoral response to a very challenging legal environment in South Carolina kept the Diocese “intact and in TEC.” Only a single parish withdrew from the Diocese until the Disciplinary Board for Bishops certified that Bishop Lawrence’s pastoral actions constituted abandonment of the church. That indefensible decision caused the entire Diocese to withdraw along with the overwhelming majority of the parishes.
What should we make of these facts?
We disagree with those among you who think the Presiding Bishop and her agents have done no wrong.
Read it all here.