Saturday, October 23, 2010

Critics Charge that Title IV Revisions Signify Strategy in Ecclesial Culture War

While I'm not a canon lawyer, things I've been reading and hearing about the revisions to Title IV (the disciplinary canons of the Episcopal Church) are troubling. C. Alan Runyan and Mark McCall's essay "Title IV Revisions: Unmasked," for instance, unpacks in great detail the following claims:

The revisions [which go into effect on July 11, 2011] certainly will change the character of the disciplinary process making the disciplinary landscape appear less formal, speedier and more pastoral. However, these goals mask other very unsettling realities of the new disciplinary process, more suggestive of another pastoral analogy: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Unmasked, these revisions do not simply change the form of the process in ways that dramatically alter Clergy’s due process but they also make very significant changes to the substantive discipline of Clergy, as well as to the very polity of TEC as it relates to the Dioceses, Bishops Diocesan and the Presiding Bishop.

Read it all.

In an article for The Living Church entitled "Revisions to Title IV Are Bad Law," G. Thomas Graves III writes as follows:

[The Title IV revisions] enable a bishop (and the presiding bishop) not only to serve as policeman writing the citation, but also to sit as a member of the three-person board (or grand jury) that will be appointed to replace a duly elected standing committee.

Any resemblance to due process as we understand it in this country has been eliminated from Title IV, including protection of ordained clergy against self-incrimination. Clergy must now “testify and cooperate”; they must “self-report” an offense; and they will no longer hear Miranda warnings. As rewritten, Title IV works to the advantage of those who currently hold authority within TEC. With a change in regime, however, it could easily become an instrument of control by those they oppose. Good law should serve all parties, not simply whichever group may be in power. ...

In the Anglican Communion today, we hear a great deal about the autonomy of the provinces. This "necessary" autonomy, a term introduced by the Episcopal Church, underpins the authority of the Episcopal Church to act as it has — unilaterally, bringing much discord to the entire Communion. In this light, it is ironic that within our own province the bureaucrats and lawyers that gather in New York City attempt to reverse this flow of power when it is to their benefit, claiming, and now legislating, that the province is the supreme authority over each and every diocese. ...

As Runyan and McCall describe it, “the most revolutionary aspect” of the revised Title IV is its granting the presiding bishop the same authority over other bishops as these bishops now have over the diocesan clergy under their jurisdiction. There is no question that this provision of the canon purports to create authority that is not constitutionally available. The church’s Constitution prohibits any bishop from functioning in the jurisdiction of another bishop.

The revised canon, however, gives the presiding bishop control over any disciplinary matter "in which the member of the clergy who is subject to the proceedings" is another bishop. And the presiding bishop can moreover initiate charges —imposing restrictions on a diocesan bishop "at any time" and "without prior notice," in the language of the amendment.

Again, I'm not a canon lawyer, but if even half of what Runyan, McCall, and Graves say about the Title IV revisions is true, it really should be cause for concern for all Episcopalians, regardless of where one stands on the theological spectrum in relation to the hot-button issues du jour. For this suggests a willingness to revise and use the Church's canons as weapons in the ongoing ecclesial culture war within the Episcopal Church to not just get conservatives out of the way, but to "eliminate" any clergyperson who is not fully on board with the agenda of whoever happens to be in power.

But is that really an accurate reading of the Title IV revisions? Are Runyan, McCall, and Graves right to sound the alarm?


Joe Rawls said...

I left Roman Catholicism in large part because it was too authoritarian. Maybe getting rejected by the Commission on Ministry wasn't such a bad thing after all.

Alexi said...

They are right indeed. You should hear Mr. Runyon explain the changes. Don't believe it now? You will after you hear his explanation. Just go to

On the first page under Anglican TV videos of the Reconvened Convention is a video of Mr. Runyon explaining the changes. MUST view if you want to understand the changes.

Garland Lyell said...

Is there anything new as to who might have control over disciplinary proceeding against the Presiding Bishop?

Bryan Owen said...

Alexi, thanks for bringing the video of Mr. Runyon's explanation to our attention. I watched it but thought it didn't address my questions as pointedly as I was hoping. It's not nearly as pointed as the essay he co-authored with McCall.

And that's a good question, Garland. I don't know the answer to it.

Bryan Owen said...

BTW, I just noticed that this happens to be my 666th blog posting.