Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bishop Ackerman, the Presiding Bishop, and the Canons

[A number of people have commented that my original title and introductory satirical quotation were a distraction from some very valid observations regarding the Presiding Bishop's actions toward Bishop Ackerman, hence this updated version.]

Today, a very godly and humble Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Keith Keith L. Ackerman, received communications from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, accepting his "renunciation of ordained ministry." There is only one problem: Bishop Ackerman never had any intention of renouncing his ministry.

I know from speaking with Bishop Ackerman that he sent the Presiding Bishop a handwritten letter merely asking to have his credentials transferred to the Diocese of Bolivia. He said that he had no intention of renouncing his orders and that, while he intends to assist Bishop Lyons in work in Bolivia, he also wished to remain available to assist bishops in the United States, as requested.

The Presiding Bishop says that “...there is no provision for transferring a bishop to another province.” But that is not true. Title III, Canon 10, Sec. 2, provides for the reception of “Clergy Ordained by Bishops of Churches in Communion with This Church” by means of Letters Dimissory and states:
(3) The provisions of this Section 1 shall be fully applicable to all Members of the Clergy (emphasis mine) ordained in any Church in the process of entering the historic episcopal succession with which The Episcopal Church is in full communion as specified in Canon I.20, subject to the covenant of the two Churches as adopted by the General Convention.

And a subsection states that the churches from which such a clergy may be received includes:
(i) those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury,

So if the Episcopal Church can receive clergy (and bishops are included when it says “all Members of the Clergy”) from other provinces of the Anglican Communion by means of Letters Dimmisory, then it can issue those same letters when a bishop or other member of the clergy transfers to another province of the Anglican Communion.

And, of course, the Episcopal Church has transferred clergy to other provinces of the Anglican Communion throughout its history. If one reviews the clergy list in The Episcopal Church Annual in most years one will find a section listing “Clergy Transferred to Other Churches” with the country or province to which the clergy have transferred given in parentheses. For instance, if you look in the 2003 Annual you find the name of the late Peter Toon followed by (England), because the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon, who continued to live and minister in the United States until his death earlier this year, transferred his canonical residence back to England in 2002.

Further, it is not even necessary for the Presiding Bishop to be involved in transferring a bishop to another province or diocese elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.

CANON III.10.2(a)(2) provides only that Letters Dimissory be issued by “the hand and seal of the Bishop with whose Diocese the person has been last connected.”

That a resigned bishop (such as Bishop Ackerman) may transfer to another diocese is indicated in CANON III.12.8(i) which states:
A resigned Bishop may, at the discretion of the Bishop of the Diocese in which the resigned Bishop resides, and upon presentation of Letters Dimissory from the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the resigned Bishop has had canonical residence most recently, be enrolled among the Clergy of the new Diocese, and become subject to its Constitution and Canons including being given a seat and vote in the Diocesan Convention, in accordance with its canonical provisions for qualification of clergy members.

This Canon demonstrates that Bishops are considered to have canonical residence in a diocese and that this canonical residence can be transferred by means of Letters Dimissory. Consequently, the “Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the resigned Bishop has had canonical residence most recently” (presumably the “Provisional Bishop” of Quincy) could have transferred Bishop Ackerman to Bishop Lyons in Bolivia by means of Letters Dimissory and his transfer have been recorded without any recourse to the Presiding Bishop or the purported “renunciation” which the PB is now asserting.

It will be remembered that the Presiding Bishop also erroneously asserted that Bishop Henry Scriven renounced his orders when he returned to England. (See 1, 2, and 3.) If the Presiding Bishop would only have bothered to check for precedents in how such tranfers were handled, she could have avoided the scandal of, once again, misinterpreting the canons.


mousestalker said...

Well, when a bishop won't supply a document to fit the predetermined narrative, you just have to roll up your sleeves and write the letter for him.

More to the point and less sarcastically, when you believe that you are doing good, and you have abandoned all the touchstones of determining whether your conduct is moral, it's hard to fight the idea that the end justifies the means.

The Presiding Bishop has in her mind what is to her, and to many within the Episcopal Church, a noble goal. The rest of us are stumbling blocks of one size or another on the road to that goal.

wnpaul said...

I don't think the Presiding Bishop had any intention of avoiding what she considers not a scandal but the inheren prerogative of her office: picking and interpreting the canons and the doctrines as she thinks best suits her agenda.

Allen Lewis said...

Dean Munday,

If the Presiding Bishop would only have bothered to check for precedents in how such tranfers were handled, she could have avoided the scandal of, once again, misinterpreting the canons.

I gather that the Presiding Bishop does not bother herself with such niceties. She is too busy running off any orthodox bishops and clergy that she can find.

RBK+ said...

The Episcopal Church has, apparently, become the Roach Motel (they check in, but they don't check out) of the Anglican Communion (or what's left of it).

Thank you for writing as you have Robert.

Brien Koehler

Thomas B. Woodward said...

Our Presiding Bishop has not run off anyone. She has been tireless in providing Duncan, Ackermann and others means of resolving their relationship with the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Ackermann should have had the integrity to convey to our Presiding Bishop that he was no longer able to keep his consecration vows to be loyal and obedient to the doctrine and discipline of The Episcopal Church. I do not know why he did not that, but there is no excuse for his not taking responsibility for abandoning his consecration and ordination vows.

I am surprised that you, as Dean of Nashotah House, have not commented on that lack of integrity. When we give that up, we are not to be trusted in anything.

Robert S. Munday said...


My post was not about the Presiding Bishop "running off" anyone. Although since you mention it, the direction in which she has led TEC has "run off" four dioceses, numerous congregations in other dioceses, plus thousands of individual Episcopalians who have concluded they can no longer be Christians and still be Episcopalians. Hardly a day goes by that I don't read or hear of another congregation that has left TEC.

The point my of post, however, was that the PB erred in treating Bishop Ackerman's desire to have letters dimissory sent to Bp. Lyons in Bolivia as a renunciation of his ordination.

Bishop Ackerman has done nothing to abandon his consecration and ordination vows. He has been functioning as an assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Springfield and as an Episcopal Visitor to congregations in other dioceses where the Bishop invited him to serve.

As you can see from the sections of the Canons that I quoted, Bishops remain canonically resident in the dioceses in which they retire unless their canonical residence is transferred to another diocese, and the Canons spell out very clearly how their canonical residence may be transferred.

Given all that has transpired in the Diocese of Quincy since his retirement--such as the division of the Diocese and the deposition of his predecessor--he thought he might have greater peace of mind if he were canonically resident in Bolivia where he has been invited to serve. He had no intention of losing his ability to continue to minister in TEC dioceses at the request of local bishops.

Tom, I would be very careful raising the question of integrity, given the PB's self-serving and spurious reading of the Canons. I call your attention to two articles by the Anglican Communion Institute in this regard: and

The Reverend Canon F. Hugh Magee said...

Who cares?

Robert S. Munday said...

Well, Canon Magee, apparently you cared enough to post a response. Glad we could make your day!

Tom Downs said...

"The point my of post, however, was that the PB erred in treating Bishop Ackerman's desire to have letters dimissory sent to Bp. Lyons in Bolivia as a renunciation of his ordination."
As I understand it, TEC canons in question concern transfer to a diocese within TEC. Do I understand you to mean that the folks in Bolivia have been petitioning to join TEC and thus come under our canons? How did I miss that at the recent General Convention.
The Rev. Tom Downs

Robert S. Munday said...

No, Tom, I think if you would re-read my post carefully, it would answer your questions.

The canons are clear that clergy may transfer into the Episcopal Church from any province or diocese that is in communion with the see of Canterbury by means of letters dimissory. So they may transfer to other dioceses and provinces in communion with Canterbury by the same means.

The specific canon pertaining to transferring the canonical residence of a resigned bishop does not specifically limit it to only TEC dioceses. There is no reason why this canon should not be read in light of the earlier section allowing for the transfer of clergy to and from other provinces of the Communion.

Robert S. Munday said...

One further thing in response to Tom Downs: There are plenty of precedents on how the transfers of clergy (including bishops) to other provinces of the Communion were handled prior to the current Presiding Bishop's tenure.

If she and her advisers would check the precedents, and if they were not apparently so eager to nullify any departing bishops so that they can no longer exercise a ministry in TEC, they would handle these transfers the way they have always been done--and none of this would be an issue!

teddymak said...

Dean Munday:

It has been reported that the entire Council of Advice, including Bishop MacPhereson, voted in favor of the action of the PB in the Ackerman matter. Can you verify this?

Thanks for your help.

Robert S. Munday said...


No, I don't have any information about that. But I will check it out.

Robert S. Munday said...


It appears that Bp. MacPherson's term on the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice ended as of the 2009 General Convention in July.