Episcopal blood-letting

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     When Robert Duncan was elected Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh in 1997, he was the dark horse local candidate who defeated the out-of-town contenders for a job in what used to be a quiet diocese. At the time, he was thought of as more an administrator kind of guy; far less flashy than his revered predecessor, the silver-haired Alden Hathaway.

     Then in 2003, the Episcopalians OK’d the consecration of the world’s first openly gay bishop: Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Bishop Duncan became a leader in the Network, a group of conservatives fighting to stay in the Episcopal Church but disheartened by its increasingly liberal tendencies. As those tendencies got more and more onerous, various dioceses, including Pittsburgh, announced they were considering leaving the Episcopal Church, which in Pittsburgh’s case would mean a flight of millions of dollars - $43 million is one figure being bandied about - in church assets.   

    Pittsburgh Episcopalians will vote Oct. 4 whether or not to leave the denomination. They are not alone. The Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., has already left although the Episcopal Church has instituted another bishop to try to rebuild. Being that senior Episcopal bishops in California have endorsed the California’s Supreme Court’s May ruling giving civil marriage status to gay unions, the San Joaquinians probably saw what was coming and decided to flee.

    The Diocese of Fort Worth votes in November on whether to leave the Episcopal Church. Most are heading toward the Anglican province of the Southern Cone, a South American province headed by Greg Venables, a bishop who has taken numerous conservatives around the world under his ecclesiastical wing.  

    Where it gets interesting is that Presiding Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori has been gunning for Bishop Duncan’s ouster for almost a year. She tried to get three senior bishops - including Virginia’s Peter J. Lee, to sign onto this but not all three would do so. Here is a copy of the letter she wrote explaining her legal reasons for getting around this requirement to place a vote to oust Bishop Duncan on the agenda of this Thursday’s Episcopal House of Bishops meeting. 

    And here is Bishop Duncan’s response. He is refusing to attend the HOB meeting in Salt Lake City and say a vote to oust him is violating the church’s constitution and canons. One major reason is that a vote to kick out a bishop must be assented to by the majority of the church’s bishops - and it’s commonly known that a majority don’t attend the HOB meetings. Bishop Jefferts Schori says the vote shall happen nonetheless and “the discipline of the church shall not be stymied.” 

    If the HOB decides Bishop Duncan has “abandoned the Communion” of the Episcopal Church (that is the wording of the charge), he would be the latest of several bishops so removed. Usually most of these bishops have already removed themselves by the time there’s a vote to expel them. This time is different as Robert Duncan is still a sitting bishop. 

   — Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times

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About the Author
Julia Duin

Julia Duin

Julia Duin is the Times' religion editor. She has a master's degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...

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