Saturday, September 20, 2008
Rector’s Announcement concerning the Deposition of the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan
Photograph from the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Peter Frank, editor.
Many of you will have read in the newspaper or seen on television the report that on this past Thursday afternoon, September 18, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church voted to authorize the Presiding Bishop to depose our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert Wm Duncan. She indicated then that she would not complete that process until she had the opportunity to speak directly with Bishop Duncan, and I’m not sure whether that has occured. If it hasn’t, it certainly will within the next day or two.
This has happened, as most of us are aware, in the context of the effort, led by Bishop Duncan, to promote a resolution at our upcoming convention severing the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and then “realigning” the diocese with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of South America. Although that effort has not yet come to its conclusion, the bishops gathered in Salt Lake City for their regular fall meeting decided to act, judging that Bishop Duncan’s actions have already constituted an abandonment of his responsibilities as a bishop of the Episcopal Church.
I want to say a word about what this means and--what it doesn’t mean.
The deposition of Bishop Duncan does not mean that he is no longer a bishop. Our church believes that Holy Orders are indelible. And in fact, as Bishop Duncan was deposed on Thursday, he was at essentially the same time received into the House of Bishops in the Church of the Province of the Southern Cone, in which Anglican Province he would be and is now authorized to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, to administer Confirmation, to ordain, and so on. Whether this ministry would also be recognized in other parts of the Anglican Communion is an issue with a mixed answer. Some Provinces have immediately announced that recognition, and others to this point have been silent. But in any case, what the deposition does mean is that Bishop Duncan is now deprived of his ability to function as a bishop sacramentally within official boundaries of the Episcopal Church. He could still be considered a baptized member of the Episcopal Church and function in any ministry that a layperson could be authorized to perform, but he could not validly celebrate the Eucharist, officiate at a marriage, pronounce a liturgical blessing, confirm, or ordain. He also may not hold any office in the Episcopal Church that would require ordination--as a rector of a parish, say, or, obviously, as the bishop of a diocese.
At his deposition, Bishop Duncan ceases to have authority as bishop of our diocese, and what is called the “ecclesiastical authority” of the bishop shifts immediately to our diocesan Standing Committee, four priests and four laypersons elected at diocesan convention. They will be the authority in our diocese for the next two weeks, at least until the conclusion of the October 4th Diocesan Convention.
It is expected that if the diocese realigns and forms a diocesan entity within the Southern Cone, it will then go forward to elect Bishop Duncan once again as what I believe they will term the “Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Province of the Southern Cone.” He will then resume his role as bishop within that entity, and under the canons and authority of that Province. Those of us who will not recognize or participate in the realignment, continuing under the canons and authority of the Episcopal Church, will continue to be under the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Standing Committee—as that committee will then be reorganized with members who continue to recognize the authority of the Episcopal Church. And then we will all move on from there, as two distinct entities. Over the interval of next two weeks, Bishop Duncan has been employed by our present Standing Committee as an advisor and will continue, in that role, to exercise a “consultative” spiritual and pastoral ministry in our whole diocese—a formal role and relationship to us at St. Andrew’s, that will not end until October 4.
Some have also asked me how these actions affect Bishop Scriven. I would begin by noting simply that Bishop Scriven continues to be a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church. None of the disciplinary proceedings and judgments related to Bishop Duncan have referenced him. And we all know, I think, that Bishop Scriven has been called to a new ministry as Director of the United Kingdom branch of the South American Missionary Society. The Bishop of Oxford has indicated that on his arrival at the end of December Bishop Scriven will be named an Assisting Bishop in that diocese, within the Church of England. Over the next two weeks Bishop Scriven will continue to be employed by our diocese also as a consultant and advisor—and it may be that the “realigned” Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Cone will seek to employ him after October 4th as an Assistant Bishop. Were he to hold that office long-term, it is likely the House of Bishops would begin action as well in terms of his status within the Episcopal Church—but since the bishops don’t even meet again until March, and since Bishop Scriven’s departure is already clear, I doubt whether any further action would be thought necessary.
With the permission of our present diocesan Standing Committee Bishop Scriven may be invited over the next two weeks, as a “visiting bishop” (no longer “Assistant Bishop”) to preach, celebrate the Eucharist, to officiate at marriages, to administer Confirmation, and so on. I believe this permission has been granted generally by our present Standing Committee. That permission would probably need to be renewed by our “continuing Episcopal Church” Standing Committee, either generally or on a case-by-case basis, after October 4th,.
Finally, over the next two weeks we at St. Andrew’s will continue in our services to pray for Bishop Duncan and Bishop Scriven, though with a slight change of wording to reflect changed roles and relationships. There will be further changes in the language of our prayers after October 4th. I know, though, that in our “unofficial” prayer life we would continue to pray for Bishop Duncan, for Nara, for their daughter Louise, and for her family, and for Bishop Scriven, Catherine, their children Joel and Anna, and for their families, certainly to express our appreciation for the many gifts received through their ministry over so many years, and for their pastoral friendship and spiritual support. The coming months will see many changes in life and circumstance, but we would ask our Lord to continue to hold them in his love and to protect and bless them always.
The Rev. Dr. Bruce M. Robison