Bishop Duncan gets the heave ho

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    I was driving down a freeway when I heard that Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan had been voted out of the Episcopal House of Bishops today. It was past 6 p.m.; I had a pouty 3-year-old in the back seat and I could not even pull aside to take down the phone number of the upcoming press-conference-by-phone happening in a few minutes.      

     Very briefly, Robert Duncan is probably the top conservative Episcopal bishop in America today. His diocese voted last year to leave the denomination, taking zillions of dollars worth of property with them of course. Their second and final vote on the matter is Oct. 4 in Pittsburgh. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefforts Schori, announced only a few days ago that a meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in Salt Lake City, originally scheduled for reflections on this summer’s Lambeth Conference in England, would include a vote to unseat Bishop Duncan.

     The problem with this last minute course of action is that she does not have the canonically mandated number of bishops needed to vote out a sitting fellow bishop. As I explained in a previous blog, she found a way around this problem and, after two days of closed-door sessions, got a 2-1 vote affirming that the Pittsburgh bishop had “abandoned the communion of the Church.”

      Normally it takes months, if not years to remove a bishop. We all remember the 1996 ecclesiastical trial surrounding former Newark Bishop Walter Righter because of his insistence on ordaining a non-celibate homosexual man to the priesthood in 1990. It took close to a year to organize and the charges were dismissed, not because he was innocent (he was guilty) but because the court said the denomination had no core doctrine against ordaining gays. The process involving Bishop Duncan happened at warp speed with no church trial. His lawyer has already put out a statement saying at least three canon laws were violated in Salt Lake City.

      In case any of you wonder at the paucity of news reports on this event, it’s because many of the nation’s religion writers are gathered here in Washington for their annual convention and most of us had already filed our news stories for the day on the newest statistics out from Baylor University on the always entertaining religious inclinations of Americans. Most of these journalists were by then imbibing wine and cheese at a book launch at the K Street Lounge smack in the middle of downtown and were not of a mind to pursue one more news story that day. Ditto with me; with the 3-year-old wrapped around me for the evening, another news story was not going to happen. 

   So here I am close to midnight reading the official Episcopal view of it all here and Virtuosity’s take on it here. I can’t do any better than these folks at this point but let me point out a few things. David Virtue has this list of dioceses that voted against ejecting Bishop Duncan: Albany, N.Y; Dallas, Western Kansas, Central Florida, South Carolina, Upper South Carolina Suffragan Bishop of Alabama, Tennessee, Southwest Florida, Easton, Md., Montana, New Jersey, Milwaukee, Northern Indiana,  Oklahoma, Virginia (all 3 bishops), Rhode Island, Rio Grande, Northwest Texas, Eastern Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Western Louisiana. That’s a partial count as there were 35 votes to retain Bishop Duncan vs 88 votes to cast him out. There were some abstentions. Note that none of the Pennsylvania dioceses are on this list. They all voted to dump him.

   Easton and Virginia are local dioceses. I am not surprised that the new bishop of Baltimore, Eugene Sutton, a former canon at the Washington cathedral and presumably of the same liberal theological cast, voted against Bishop Duncan. But note that Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee and his two assisting bishops must  voted *not* to kick out Bishop Duncan even though Duncan has supported some 11 churches who left the Virginia diocese. Virginia sued to get their property and the lawsuit is still in Fairfax Circuit Court. The Virginia diocese has spent tons of money thus far only to get three unfavorable decisions in a row from Circuit Judge Randy Bellows. 

    Also, the Rev. Harold T. Lewis of Calvary Church in Pittsburgh, one of the clergy responsible - some say he was the ringleader - for engineering Bishop Duncan’s ouster, was first runner-up for bishop of Washington in 2003. John Chane defeated him. What if Mr. Lewis had won instead? Interesting thought. 

    Also, it’s not hard to guess which way a majority of Episcopalians in Pittsburgh may vote now that their bishop has been declared defunct, as it were. I’m guessing they’ll vote to leave. Bishop Duncan has already announced today that he’s joined the South American Province of the Southern Cone, which gives him ecclesiastical backing and the ability to function in the Anglican Communion, if not the Episcopal Church. The former is the parent body of the Episcopal Church. 

     I wish I had more details but that’s all that is available at this hour. Why do you think the Virginia bishops voted against getting rid of Bishop Duncan? For several reasons, maybe, but one of which has to be because they know what’s ahead in terms of lawsuits.

    — 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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