US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has suspended Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker from the ministry of the Episcopal Church on the grounds of having backed his diocese’s secession to the Province of the Southern Cone.
While the Nov 21 notice of inhibition came as no surprise to Episcopal Church watchers, internal church documents show a resistance by the review committee to punish Bishop Iker on the basis of his beliefs---resisting Bishop Schori’s push to discipline the Fort Worth bishop before his diocese quit the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Schori’s inhibition of Bishop Iker also appears to have introduced a new interpretation of the disciplinary canons for bishops. The requirement that the church’s three senior bishops endorse the inhibition of a bishop---which had been deemed irrelevant to the case against Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan in September---has been reinstated in the case of Bishop Iker.
On Aug 26, attorneys for Bishop Schori submitted a 64-page indictment to the Title IV Committee. Bishop Schori believed the Anglo-Catholic leader had “so repudiated the doctrine, discipline and worship” of the church by his “persistent position that the Diocese may choose whether or not to remain a constituent part of the Episcopal Church,” that he should be found to have “abandoned the Communion of this Church.”
Bishop Schori’s lawyer, David Booth Beers added the “presiding bishop would appreciate consideration of this matter on an expedited basis, specifically, if at all feasible, before the next meeting of the House of Bishops on September 17, 2008.”
The Title IV Committee declined to deliberate at an expedited pace, and on Sept 12 Mr. Beers provided further documents in support of its contentions. A third memo to the committee was mailed on Oct 3 by Mr. Beers with clippings of an article written by Bishop Iker entitled “10 Reasons Why Now is the Time to Realign.”
In his Oct 3 letter, the presiding bishop’s attorney said that his client “has asked you consider again the evidence” against Bishop Iker. Mr. Beers noted the deposition of Bishop Duncan had now set a precedent that permitted a bishop to be deposed for bad thoughts, without recourse to having committed bad actions.
Bishop Duncan “had in his episcopal leadership role taken the position that the Diocese had the option of either remaining subject to the Constitution and canons of this Church or leaving this Church for membership in another Province of the Communion, and that in that role he was encouraging the Diocese to choose to leave.” This conspiracy to encourage secession had been used to depose Bishop Duncan and should now be used against Bishop Iker.
However, the Title IV committee again refused an expedited request to act on the conspiracy charge. On Nov 20 the committee “found by a majority vote of its members” that Bishop Iker “has abandoned the communion of this Church.”
It based its findings upon the materials submitted for its consideration by Mr. Beers, and by the actions of the Nov 14-15 Fort Worth Synod, where “Bishop Iker, according to his own reported statements and the statements issued by the Diocese of Forth Worth,” was serving as bishop of the “realigned” diocese.
On Nov 21, Bishop Schori issued a certificate of inhibition to Bishop Iker, giving him 60 days to recant of his abandonment. Unlike the case of Bishop Duncan, where the three senior bishops of the church had declined as a group to inhibit him, Bishop Iker was inhibited with the “consent” of the Bishops of Texas, Southeast Florida and Virginia.
During the Duncan affair, Mr. Beers had argued that the “consent” of the three bishops for inhibition was not a prerequisite for discipline of the Pittsburgh bishop.
On Nov 24, Bishop Iker stated “Katharine Jefferts Schori has no authority over me or my ministry as a Bishop in the Church of God. She never has, and she never will.”
He noted that since the Nov 15 synod vote, “both the Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth and I as the Diocesan bishop” have been members of the Southern Cone. “As a result”, he added, Bishop Schori’s declarations “pertaining to us” are irrelevant and of no consequence.”
The Presiding of the Forth Worth Standing Committee, the Rev. Thomas Hightower endorsed Bishop Iker’s statement and called upon Bishop Schori to “desist from any further actions in our diocese and that she refrain from any further border crossing.”
The notice of inhibition was an “illegal, unconstitutional and uncanonical attempt to interfere” with the “rights and ministry” of “a diocese of another province of the Anglican Communion,” Dr. Hightower said.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Fort Worth told The Church of England Newspaper that they were not aware of any move by the national church to inhibit their assisting bishop, the Rt. Rev. William Wantland, the retired Bishop of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
On Nov 15, Bishop Wantland---the Episcopal Church’s leading canon lawyer---wrote Bishop Schori asking that he be granted an honorary seat in the US House of Bishops.
As he was now a bishop of the Province of the Southern Cone and disqualified from membership in the US House of Bishops, he resided in the jurisdiction of the American Church. “I therefore request that I be admitted as an honorary member of the House of Bishops, in accord with the provisions of Rule XXIV of the House of Bishops, as provided in paragraph three of said Rule, as a "Bishop of this Church who removed from the jurisdiction of this Church to a jurisdiction of a Church in the Anglican Communion".
As an honorary member, Bishop Wantland would be given voice, but not vote, in the affairs of the House of Bishops---a status soon to be shared with all retired bishops pending the second reading of a constitutional amendment at the 2009 General Convention.
However, by appealing to the rules of the House, Bishop Wantland may have short circuited disciplinary proceedings against him, as the rules specifically provide for the course of action he has requested.
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