In response to questions from The Living Church and others, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson, president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, provided this explanation regarding accusations brought to the board against the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina.
A question has arisen about the process for administration of the so-called “abandonment” canon (Title IV.16) especially as it applies to bishops. Although it has come in a couple of forms, the question might be expressed in this way: “Who initiates action when information arises which indicates that abandonment of The Episcopal Church may have occurred?”
In accordance with the canon, such proceedings are begun at the initiative of the Disciplinary Board itself (although this has not happened within memory, if ever), or when information is received by the Disciplinary Board from any credible source with standing to raise the issue. Perhaps the following is helpful.
Title IV.16 is entitled “Of Abandonment of The Episcopal Church,” and sub-section (A) is the portion thereof which relates to bishops. It designates that conduct which constitutes abandonment and specifies the process for administration of the canon when such conduct happens, or is alleged to have happened.
Title IV.17 is entitled “Of Proceedings for Bishops.” It addresses terminology applicable to Title IV.16, but the canons make clear that the process to be followed for abandonment is markedly different from that to be followed with other kinds of infractions.
Title IV.16 provides, in part, that “If a Bishop abandons The Episcopal Church … it shall be the duty of the Disciplinary Board … to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop….” The Presiding Bishop then restricts the exercise of the ministry of the bishop and refers the matter to the House of Bishops to “investigate the matter and act thereon.” It is clear that the language “it shall be the duty of the Disciplinary Board” means that the action starts exactly there. This was the understanding of the provision under the prior version of Title IV as well, and the practice of the Review Committee (that version’s equivalent of the present Disciplinary Board) before implementation of the present canon.
a. That the procedure for abandonment was designed to be different finds further expression in IV.16(B), which covers abandonment “By a Priest or Deacon”; it provides, in part, “If it is reported to the Standing Committee of the Diocese … and if (the Standing Committee) shall determine … that the Priest or Deacon has abandoned The Episcopal Church … it shall be [its] duty … to transmit … to the Bishop Diocesan … its determination”; the Bishop then acts on the Standing Committee’s determination.
b. Note that the abandonment canon makes no provision for the involvement of the Intake Officer, any of the panels, for appeal to a court of review, or for conciliation (short of retraction or satisfactory denial) for bishops, priests or deacons.
Title IV.17, on the other hand, clearly relates to other actions covered by the canon — actions primarily involving moral and/or legal infractions specified in Canons 3 and 4 of Title IV. Information submitted to the Church which relates to possible infractions of these types of misconduct goes first to an Intake Officer. If the Intake Officer determines that the information, if true, constitutes an offense under the Constitution or Canons, then one, some, or all of the following disciplinary bodies may be involved (depending on whether, how, and when/where in the process resolution of the matter is reached): Reference Panel, Conference Panel, Hearing Panel. If the matter gets to, and a decision is rendered by, the Hearing Panel, there is an opportunity for appeal: from decisions within a diocese, the Court of Review in the province in which the diocese is a part; for bishops, the Court of Review for Bishops.
Conclusion: The process for dealing with conduct which may constitute abandonment of the communion of the Church under Title IV was intended to be, and under the canons is, an exception to and different from the process for dealing with other infractions, actual or alleged.