As if things weren’t already bizarre enough, the choice of the Presiding Bishop to claim that Bishop Scriven (formerly assitant Bishop of Pittsburgh) has voluntarily renounced his orders has taken things to a new level. Bishop Scriven has accepted an appointment to head the South American Mission Society which is now merging with the Church Mission Society. On top of this, he was accepted into the Diocese of Oxford. The last time I checked, the Episcopal Church was in Communion with the Church of England, and one of the basic elements of Communion is the interchangability of orders–something that was foundational as the Anglican Communion emerged as an international body, and which is one of the first steps in any process of unity with other Christian bodies (consider “Called to Common Mission”, the agreement between the ELCA and TEC which allows the interchangability of orders.) While, given the nature of our conflict, it is easy to assign nefarious intent to actions such as these, I can’t see any rhyme or reason to doing something that makes you look so foolish. So is it intentional vindictiveness or simply ineptitude? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Defenders of the Presiding Bishop are scrambling to re-interpret her extraordinary action of depriving a bishop of the Church of England of the gifts and authority conferred in his ordination and removing him from the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church. For example, the group supporting the Presiding Bishop in Pittsburgh stated that “[t]his is a routine way of permitting Bishop Scriven to continue his ministry.” In the strange world of TEC, renunciation of orders has become a routine way of continuing one’s ministry.
But it is not routine. Indeed, it has not been used for those transferring from TEC to another province in the Anglican Communion until the Presiding Bishop began what resembles a scorched-earth approach to her opponents within TEC. Not surprisingly, in the past such matters have been handled by letter. One can see the evolution of the Presiding Bishop’s “routine” policy in the treatment of Bishop David Bena, who was transferred by letter by his diocesan bishop to the Church of Nigeria in February 2007. A month later, the Presiding Bishop wrote Bishop Bena and informed him that “by this action you are no longer a member of the House of Bishops” and that she had informed the Secretary of the House to remove him from the list of members. That was all that needed to be done. A year later, however, as her current strategy emerged, she suddenly declared in January 2008 that she had accepted Bishop Bena’s renunciation of orders using the canon she now uses against Bishop Scriven. In other words, if this is now sadly routine, it has only become routine in the past year.
Not only is this not routine, it was not necessary. As we pointed out in our original statement, Bishop Scriven ceased to be an Assistant Bishop in TEC and thereby ceased to be a member of TEC’s House of Bishops the moment Bishop Duncan was deposed. This was a constitutional disqualification imposed on Bishop Scriven by Article I.2 of TEC’s constitution. Canonically speaking, he ceased to be a bishop in TEC at that point. His original status as a bishop of the Church of England was not thereby affected, of course, and upon requesting and receiving an honorary role in the Diocese of Oxford that became his formal diocesan home. All that was necessary in January 2009 was for TEC to conform its records to this fact.