Citing Title III, Canon 12, Section 7 of the Constitutions and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and following thorough discussion with the Council of Advice, with their advice and consent, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has accepted the renunciation of the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church of Mark Lawrence as made in his public address on November 17 and she has released him from his orders in this Church.
The Presiding Bishop made the announcement December 5. The Presiding Bishop informed Lawrence by phone, email and mail on December 5. Following that, the House of Bishops was notified.
According to the documents, Lawrence “is therefore removed from the Ordained Ministry of this Church and released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred on him in Ordinations. This action is taken for causes that do not affect his moral character.”
The renunciation is effective immediately on December 5.
The renunciation was consented to by the members of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice, who are the presidents or vice presidents of the nine Provinces of the Episcopal Church: Bishops Stephen Lane of Maine (Province I), Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island (Province II), Neff Powell of Southwestern Virginia (Province III), Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida (Province IV); Wayne Smith of Missouri (Province V), Rob O’Neill of Colorado (Province VI), Larry Benfield of Arkansas (Province VII), James Mathes of San Diego (Province VIII) and Francisco Duque of Colombia (Province IX). Also members of the Council of Advice are Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas, vice president of the House of Bishops and Bishop Clay Matthews of the Office of Pastoral Development. Note: Bishop Dabney Smith was not present at the meeting because of illness.
November 17 address
On November 17, Lawrence presented an address in which he publicly proclaimed the disassociation of the diocese from the Episcopal Church: “We have withdrawn from that Church that we along with six other dioceses help to organize centuries ago.” He also said: “We have moved on. With the Standing Committee’s resolution of disassociation the fact is accomplished: legally and canonically.”
Facts leading up to the renunciation
Pastoral outreach to Lawrence had been ongoing for a period of several years, including up to the time he announced his intentions.
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori along with members of her staff took steps to work with Lawrence. In addition, repeated attempts by the Bishops of Province IV and notably Bishop Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina were made to discuss the situation with Lawrence and to offer help in achieving a resolution.
On September 18, 2012, the House of Bishops Disciplinary Board signed a “Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church and Statement of the Acts or Declarations Which Show Such Abandonment” in the case of the Bishop of South Carolina.
The House of Bishops Disciplinary Board was created by General Convention (Canon IV.5(1) and 17(2)), is separate from the Office of the Presiding Bishop, and is composed of 10 bishops, four lay persons, and four clergy elected by General Convention from throughout the Church.
In its “certificate,” the Disciplinary Board announced that it had “reviewed complaints from twelve adult communicants in good standing resident in the Diocese of South Carolina and two priests canonically resident in that Diocese…” Thus, the Title IV actions were initiated by members of the Diocese of South Carolina, not the Presiding Bishop.
The Disciplinary Board recited three “Acts” by the bishop to show such abandonment:
- First, resolutions came before the diocesan convention in 2010 proposing, among other things, to amend the diocesan Constitution to qualify the diocese’s accession to the Constitution of the Church and to remove any provision acceding to the canons of the Church, as well as proposals to amend the diocesan Canons to remove all references to the canons of the Church. The Disciplinary Board found:
“The failure of Bishop Lawrence to rule these resolutions out of order or otherwise to dissent from their adoption, and in fact his endorsement of these resolutions in his address to the 219th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
- Second, in October 2011, Bishop Lawrence, as President of the diocese’s nonprofit corporation, filed amendments to the corporate charter deleting all references to the Church and obedience to its Constitution and canons. The Disciplinary Board found:
“Bishop Lawrence’s action in signing, executing, and filing of the Articles of Amendment altering the stated purpose of the nonprofit corporation known as The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
- Third, in November 2011, Bishop Lawrence either signed or directed others to sign, “quitclaim deeds to every parish of the Diocese of South Carolina disclaiming any interest in the real estate held by or for the benefit of each parish.” The Disciplinary Board found:
“Bishop Lawrence’s action in directing the issuance of these quitclaim deeds in an effort to impair the trust interest of The Episcopal Church and of the Diocese of South Carolina in the affected real estate, and in personally executing such quitclaim deeds, violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duties to ‘safeguard the property and funds of the Church’ and to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
The Disciplinary Board therefore “request[ed] that the Presiding Bishop record this Certificate and Statement and take such further action concerning Bishop Mark J. Lawrence as may be required by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.” The Canons, however, required the Presiding Bishop to restrict the ministry of Lawrence immediately.
On Monday, October 15, the Presiding Bishop notified Lawrence by telephone that the Disciplinary Board had certified to her that he had engaged in conduct “constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
The Presiding Bishop in the same conversation notified him that shortly before she placed that telephone call she had in writing “placed a restriction on the exercise of ministry of Bishop Lawrence ‘until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.’” She explained that the document also stated that “[d]uring the period of such restriction, ‘the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.’”
The Presiding Bishop received a telephone call from Lawrence on Wednesday, October 17, in which she understood him to say he could not keep an agreement that the two had made on October 15 to hold the Board’s “Certificate” and the restriction on ministry in confidence until after an upcoming meeting. She understood him to explain that the Chancellor of the Diocese had concluded that under the Diocese’s rules, the disciplinary action against Lawrence had triggered a change in the status of the Diocese to the effect of its having “disassociated” from the Episcopal Church.
On the same day, an announcement on the diocesan website stated that the “leadership” of the Diocese “had in place resolutions which would become effective upon any action by TEC [i.e., Church].” The statement continued: “As a result of TEC’s attack against our Bishop, the Diocese of South Carolina is disassociated from TEC, that is, its accession to the TEC Constitution and its membership in TEC have been withdrawn.”
More information is available on the Perspectives page.
In her November 15 Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of South Carolina, the Presiding Bishop clarified “a number of issues which I understand are being discussed.” Among them:
“1) While some leaders have expressed a desire to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese has not left. It cannot, by its own action….The decisions “announced” by leaders in South Carolina appear to be unilateral responses to anxiety about decisions made by General Convention and/or the actions of the Disciplinary Board concerning Bishop Lawrence.
“The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed. If it becomes fully evident that those former leaders have, indeed, fully severed their ties with The Episcopal Church, new leaders will be elected and installed by action of a Diocesan Convention recognized by the wider Episcopal Church, in accordance with our Constitution and Canons.
“3) Bishop Lawrence was charged by several members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with having “abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church” by making or condoning actions which repudiate the polity (violate the canons or rules) of The Episcopal Church. These actions have to do with formally attempting to separate the Diocese of South Carolina, its congregations, and their property from the wider Episcopal Church without its consent. The Diocese of South Carolina is a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, and that status cannot be altered without the action of General Convention.
“The disciplinary processes of this Church carefully considered the matters with which Bishop Lawrence was charged, and the Disciplinary Board found that he had indeed repudiated the polity of this Church.”