The loyalist faction of the Diocese of San Joaquin has charged 52 clergymen of the diocese with having “abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church” and has asked provisional Bishop Jerry Lamb to depose them, unless they “recant” their sins and “return to the Episcopal Church” within six months.
The Oct 17 statement was issued by the Standing Committee of the “Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin,” a provisional body created by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori after the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to secede last year.
However, legal analysts note that by charging the 52 clergymen with “abandonment”, the provisional diocese has dealt itself a potentially fatal blow in its litigation with Bishop John-David Schofield and the “Anglican” diocese, as it may constitute an admission that the group led by Bishop Lamb is not a lawfully constituted entity.
In the provisional diocese’s press statement, the standing committee asserted the 52 clergymen had violated the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church by their “support of attempts to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church, and their repudiation of the ecclesiastical authority of the Episcopal Church” and Bishop Lamb.
It believed that “individuals may voluntarily leave the church. Parishes and diocese are integral parts of the church, and may not leave without the express consent of the governing bodies of the church” --- a point contested by the breakaway group, and also not found in the Episcopal Church’s constitution and canons.
However, legal analyst and canonical scholar AS Haley notes that “by charging these 52 clergy with ‘abandonment’, the pseudo-diocese of San Joaquin is making a legal admission that these same clergy were canonically part of its makeup over the past 11 months.”
This may prove fatal to the Bishop Lamb group’s legal challenge to the diocese, Haley said, as it is an admission that “when the pseudo-diocese held its special convention last March 29, those 52 [clergy] then counted towards the determination of whether a quorum of its clergy were in fact present to transact lawful business, such as the approval of the Rt Rev Jerry A Lamb as provisional bishop, and authorizing him to commence litigation against the Rt Rev John-David Schofield.”
Under the rules of the diocese, a quorum to conduct business at a convention must include one-third of all the clergy. At the convention that voted for secession in Dec 2007, 82 clergy, including most of the 52 charged with abandonment were present. At the special convention called by Bishop Schori on March 29, 2008, only 21 clergy were present --- 28 were required for a valid quorum.
Mr Haley noted that the absence of a valid quorum meant that “the business transacted on March 29 was null and void. Bishop Lamb was not validly approved as Provisional Bishop; the ‘standing committee’ that was purportedly elected was not validly chosen, and currently has no valid authority to charge any clergy with ‘abandonment’, and neither Bishop Lamb nor his "diocese" is a proper party plaintiff in the current lawsuit.”
If the diocese had argued the 52 secessionist clergy were no longer members of the diocese for purposes of a quorum, so that the rump group of 21 comprised a lawful quorum, “that would have deprived them of their ability to depose those clergy,” Mr Haley noted.
By seeking to punish the 52 secessionist clergy, the provisional diocese led by Bishop Lamb may well have scuppered its legal claim to the breakaway diocese’s property, Mr Haley suggested.
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