[Episcopal News Service] Two complaints apparently have been filed about the involvement of five active bishops and four retired bishops in property litigation in two Episcopal Church dioceses.
Word of the complaints surfaced on various blogs and e-mail lists on June 30. No information about either complaint was released by the Episcopal Church, including the name or names of the complainants.
According to the reports, including an extensive one here, Bishop Clayton Matthews e-mailed two groups of bishops to tell them that he had received complaints against them and that “in the next few weeks” he would begin the disciplinary process as called for in Title IV.6.3-4 of the canons of the Episcopal Church.
It is highly unusual for the existence of a complaint to become public knowledge at this point in the process, regardless the order of the person against whom the complaint is filed.
“As cited in Title IV, disciplinary matters are confidential at this stage,” Episcopal Church Public Affairs Officer Neva Rae Fox told Episcopal News Service July 2. “We are honoring that confidentiality.”
In one instance, the complaint apparently concerns the fact that seven bishops endorsed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief prepared by the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. in the pending appeal of a court ruling involving the Diocese of Fort Worth and the bishop, clergy and laity who broke away from that diocese in November 2008.
Tarrant County District Court Judge John Chupp said that because he found that the Episcopal Church’s governance is hierarchical in nature “the court follows Texas precedent governing hierarchical church property disputes, which holds that in the event of a dispute among its members, a constituent part of a hierarchical church consists of those individuals remaining loyal to the hierarchical church body.”
Those named in the Fort Worth complaint are retired Diocese of Texas Bishop Maurice M. Benitez, retired Diocese of Central Florida Bishop John W. Howe, Diocese of Dallas Bishop Suffragan Paul E. Lambert, Diocese of Albany Bishop William H. Love, Diocese of Western Louisiana Bishop D. Bruce MacPherson, Diocese of Springfield Bishop Daniel H. Martins, and Diocese of Dallas Bishop James M. Stanton.
MacPherson is also named in the other complaint, along with retired Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Jr. and retired Diocese of Springfield Bishop Peter H. Beckwith. Matthews e-mailed them to say that a complaint has been received against them because they signed affidavits opposing to a motion for summary judgment made by representatives of the Diocese of Quincy and the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2011 to secure diocesan financial assets from a group that broke from the diocese in November 2008.
The motion for summary judgment in that case was rejected in December 2011 and the case is due to go to trial in April 2013.
The Title IV canons outline ecclesiastical disciplinary procedures in complaints about the actions of deacons, priests and bishops. Those canons also outline the types of offenses that are subject to the procedures.
Matthews, who heads the church’s Office of Pastoral Development, also serves as the “intake officer” (the person designated to receive complaints alleging offense) for the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops, a body called for in Canon 17 of Title IV. He was appointed the Title IV position by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Title IV.6.3-4 says the process begins when the intake officer receives any complaint, after which he or she “may make such preliminary investigation as he or she deems necessary, and shall incorporate the information into a written intake report, including as much specificity as possible.”
When the Anglican Communion Institute announced in April that the bishops had signed onto the Fort Worth brief, its statement said that [the bishops had] “no intention of withdrawing from the church, but it is precisely because they intend to remain in the Church that they are concerned that the trial court ruling has misunderstood, and thereby damaged, the constitutional structure of The Episcopal Church.”
Diocese of Fort Worth Communication Director Katie Sherrod told ENS July 1 that she could not comment on the reports of a Title IV complaint being lodged against the seven bishops because, due to the confidentiality of the proceedings, she had no information.
Jack Iker, who leads to breakaway Fort Worth group, said in a statement that “we are saddened by the report that [the Episcopal Church] is initiating disciplinary measures against seven faithful bishops of the church who have signed an amicus brief in our direct appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.” He accused church “authorities” of resorting to “manipulation and intimidation in an effort to stifle dissent and silence any opposition to their claims.”
Bishop Love of Albany told his diocese June 30 that “I have not been officially charged with anything and may not be depending on the outcome of the initial investigation of the ‘complaint.'” He promised to address his participation in the amicus brief with Matthews and others involved in the Title IV process “at the appropriate time.”
Springfield’s Martins said in a July 1 blog post called “Speaking the Truth in Love” that he was “distressed” that the July 5-12 meeting of General Convention “which was already going to be a tense time, will be complicated ever further” by the filing of these complaints. He said he signed on to the amicus brief “reluctantly and reservedly” and that he opposes “litigating church disputes in secular court.”
Martins said it is “immaterial” if his support of the amicus brief helps either side in the Fort Worth case. “I took the action I did with the best interests of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Springfield, as nearly as I can discern them, at heart,” he wrote, noting that he was not speaking for the other bishops. “My principal concern was to not leave unchallenged the assertion that the Episcopal Church is a unitary hierarchical organism at all levels, and that the dioceses are entirely creatures of General Convention. I viewed signing the amicus brief as consistent with my vow to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church.”
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.