ACI Statement on Civil Litigation

Written by:
Thursday, March 12th, 2009

We note with concern the petition filed by the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor seeking to intervene in the ongoing litigation in Pittsburgh. The Anglican Communion Institute has posted several articles over the past year critical of actions of the Presiding Bishop which are widely perceived to be contrary to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church.  In just the past year alone, she has called diocesan conventions on her own authority and held them without proper notice or quorums.  She has dismissed members of diocesan Standing Committees without any authority to do so (or any due process).  She has repeatedly removed bishops of The Episcopal Church (and the Church of England) without following proper procedures.  Actions of the past contrary to the canons are used as precedents for further such actions.

The attempted intervention in Pittsburgh seeks to enlist the civil courts in a new and more serious challenge to the long-standing polity of The Episcopal Church. The complaint proffered by the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor seeks to turn The Episcopal Church’s governance on its head and asks the court to enshrine this reversal in civil law. It alleges that the polity of The Episcopal Church has as its highest tier of authority the central bodies of the Presiding Bishop, General Convention and Executive Council.  Underneath this triumvirate on “the next level” are the dioceses and their bishops.  Dioceses are explicitly characterized as “subordinate unit[s].”

These allegations could hardly be more incorrect.  The Episcopal Church is after all called The Episcopal Church, not The Synodical Church, The Convention Church or The Executive Council Church. This name reflects both the legal reality of The Episcopal Church’s constitution and the ecclesiology of an apostolic church.  The constitution of The Episcopal Church does not purport to define the authority of a bishop, who possesses the inherent authority of the office of successor to the apostles. The Historic Episcopate has long been recognized as an essential, non-negotiable element of Anglican identity. The polity of The Episcopal Church, clearly expressed in its name, its constitution and its history, is that of dioceses and bishops meeting in a general convention as equals. The Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council are the agents, not the superiors, of the dioceses.

The issues raised by the actions of the Presiding Bishop over the past year, and which are now before the civil courts, are these: (1) do the Presiding Bishop and the central bodies of The Episcopal Church (General Convention and Executive Council) have metropolitan authority over the dioceses and diocesan bishops; and (2) do dioceses have authority under the constitution of The Episcopal Church to sign an Anglican covenant independently of The Episcopal Church as a whole in order to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion, the sine qua non on which The Episcopal Church’s continued constitutional viability rests.  Should the efforts by the Presiding Bishop in the civil courts be successful, the result may very well be to subvert forever the polity of The Episcopal Church.

We are prepared to speak further on these issues, including in an appropriate case the submission of a “friend of the court” brief in civil litigation.  Such a submission would not side with any party to the litigation, but would seek only to preserve the historic polity of The Episcopal Church from interference by the civil courts and a Presiding Bishop acting beyond her constitutional authority.

The Rt. Reverend D. Bruce MacPherson
(Communion Partner Bishops)
The Rt. Reverend John W. Howe
(ACI advisory Committee)
The Reverend Canon Professor Christopher Seitz
The Reverend Dr. Philip Turner
The Reverend Dr. Ephraim Radner
Mark McCall, Esq.
(The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc.)

March 12 2009 07:29 am | Articles