[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal Church reference panel has apparently recommended seeking “conciliation” with nine bishops (five active and four retired) after two complaints were filed earlier this year about their involvement in property litigation in two dioceses.
According to information circulating on some blogs, the reference panel unanimously decided that the complaints would proceed with conciliation pursuant to Canon IV.10 of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons.
Conciliation, according to the canon, calls for seeking a resolution “which promotes healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among the complainant, respondent, affected community, other persons and the church.”
A conciliator will be appointed to assist in the process towards reconciliation. That person, according to the canon, should be skilled in dispute resolution techniques and without conflict of interest in the matter.
“If conciliation cannot be achieved within a reasonable time, the matter will be referred back to the reference panel,” the canon states.
Episcopal Church Public Affairs Officer Neva Rae Fox told ENS that the information about the reference panel’s recommendation is based on private letters that Bishop Clay Matthews, who heads the church’s Office of Pastoral Development, sent to the nine bishops.
“As with similar letters, they are considered private and, therefore, we will not be making them public,” she said.
Matthews also serves as the “intake officer,” the person designated to receive complaints alleging offense and refer them for further action or investigation if necessary. Matthews was appointed to that role by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
The complaints against the nine bishops surfaced in June.
In one instance, the complaint 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.
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.
As per canons, the reference panel is composed of the intake officer, the presiding bishop and the president of the Disciplinary Board of the House of Bishops (IV.2). The reference panel is charged with the duty of reviewing information to determine how to refer the matter (IV. 6.sec. (8)). The referral options are (a) no action is required other than appropriate pastoral response pursuant to Canon IV.8; (b) conciliation pursuant to IV.10; (c) investigation pursuant to IV.11; or referral for possible agreement regarding terms of discipline pursuant to IV.9.