South Carolina: The Need for Transparency
  • Thursday, November 10, 2011

Opinion

From the Anglican Communion Institute

By the Rev. Dr. Philip Turner
Mark McCall, Esq.

We have considered carefully the available information related to the allegations against Bishop Mark Lawrence that are currently under review by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. That information discloses an extended and troubling sequence of events that raises serious questions about transparency in the church.

We note the following: 

  1. In January 2010, Thomas Tisdale sent nine letters to the Diocese of South Carolina requesting voluminous documents from the diocese and its parishes. He advised the diocese that he had been retained to act “as South Carolina counsel for The Episcopal Church” by the chancellor to the Presiding Bishop. This caused the diocese to conclude that “perhaps the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, if not the Presiding Bishop herself, is seeking to build a case against the Ecclesiastical Authorities of the Diocese (Bishop and Standing Committee) and some of our parishes.” The Presiding Bishop subsequently told the Executive Council that “I think it’s important that people who want to stay Episcopalians there have some representation on behalf of the larger church.” 
  2. In August/September 2010 the directors of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a group that describes its mission as “primarily to promote The Episcopal Church, its vision and polity, within the Diocese,” wrote to the Executive Council and each member of the House of Bishops requesting an investigation by TEC “leadership” into allegations of “abandonment” by Bishop Lawrence that they attached to their letter. The attached allegations included matters previously raised by Tisdale on behalf of the Presiding Bishop’s office and allegations that were subsequently included, verbatim at points, in the “Addendum” of allegations filed with the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.
  3. In October 2010 Canon Gregory Straub replied to the Forum on behalf of the Executive Council that: “the Presiding Bishop’s office is invested in responding in all the ways that are canonically and pastorally possible to the concerns you and others have raised”; “the realities of our church polity mean that there are canonical limits to how her office and the Executive Council can intervene”; “there are, however, other formal and informal ways in which the diocese is connected to the wider church”; and “we are aware that the Forum is making good use of some of these informal connections already.”
  4. In March 2011, the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, and her chancellor met with the Forum and others in South Carolina. In response to questions, Ms. Anderson’s chancellor explained the abandonment procedures, including the role of the Presiding Bishop.
  5. In April and May 2011 the allegations of abandonment in the “Addendum” that would later be filed with the Disciplinary Board appear to have been put in final form. The footers to the attachments show they were printed out during this period: none is dated after May 1, 2011. The Addendum does not refer to events after May 2011, including the action taken by the Executive Council in June 2011 (described below).
  6. Some time prior to July 1, 2011, the lawyer advising the Title IV Review Committee, the predecessor under the former Title IV to the Disciplinary Board, began working on “the Bishop Lawrence information.” When he was again assigned to this matter in October 2011, he was described as “already more than familiar with that information and the task which is now [the Disciplinary Board’s].” This was not disclosed at the time but only in October 2011 when the President of the Disciplinary Board, Bishop Dorsey Henderson, wrote to Board members and made the communication public. Bishop Henderson has not said who initiated this prior investigation but he later said that the Board itself had not initiated such an inquiry “within memory, if ever.”
  7. On May 25, 2011, Melinda Lucka, a lawyer and director of the Forum, wrote to the Presiding Bishop, Bonnie Anderson and Gregory Straub (as officers of the Executive Council) “on behalf of” five additional signatories consisting of the chair and four other directors and members of the Forum. This letter asked the Executive Council to nullify several resolutions passed at the 2010 and 2011 conventions of the Diocese of South Carolina. In support of this request, the letter accused the diocese of “disloyalty to and disassociation with” TEC and taking actions in violation of TEC’s Constitution. It also alleged that “the Diocese and its leadership” had rejected “any meaningful effort to uphold the … polity of The Episcopal Church.” Attached to the letter was a sixteen page “Addendum” of diocesan resolutions that is identical to Tab One of the Addendum that is now being considered by the Disciplinary Board. This letter has never been made public nor was it provided to the diocese until September, but we later learned that the Executive Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Governance & Administration “spent considerable time taking up the concerns raised” in this letter on June 16, 2011 at a regular meeting of the Executive Council without informing the diocese.
  8. On June 16, 2011, the Joint Standing Committee concluded that a 2007 Executive Council resolution declaring certain actions of other dioceses (Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin) “null and void” also applied to recent actions by the Diocese of South Carolina. According to the draft minutes of the Joint Standing Committee, those present included the Presiding Bishop, her chancellor, Ms. Anderson and Canon Straub. The same day, June 16, 2011, Straub wrote Lucka and advised her of the above action and also advised her that “the Joint Standing Committee and Executive Council will continue to monitor the actions of the Annual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina.” Straub’s letter was not copied to Bishop Lawrence or the diocese nor were they otherwise informed at the time of this Executive Council action. Lucka later stated that she was waiting for this letter to be sent to the diocese before informing others, but there is no instruction in the letter itself that she was to wait or any indication that it would ever be provided to the diocese. Nor is there any indication that Lucka ever considered providing the letter to the diocese herself. 
  9. On July 1, 2011, the new Title IV became effective and the Disciplinary Board was established. Several of its members had previously served on its predecessor, the Title IV Review Committee.
  10. In late August 2011 the Diocese of South Carolina received by mail from Straub a copy of the June 16 letter from Straub to Lucka. The letter was postmarked August 26, 2011. Added to the copy in a different font were “cc’s” to Bishop Lawrence and the prior president of the Standing Committee. Straub later explained the delay by saying that he had sent the copy to the diocese at the request of Lucka, but there is no explanation as to why the Executive Council did not inform the diocese in a timely fashion as a matter of its own good order or why Lucka did not do so herself. Straub subsequently sent the diocese a copy of Lucka’s May 25 letter at the request of the diocese.
  11. On September 22, 2011, two days after the conclusion of the fall meeting of the House of Bishops, Lucka formally advised the chair of the Forum (one of those on whose behalf the May 25 letter had been sent) of the Straub response of June 16. She stated that she had “waited to let EFSC and others know about this until the Diocese also was informed. I am told the Diocese has received word of the decision.” The Forum immediately made this letter public. Contradicting any implication that this letter was the means by which the Forum was in fact informed of the action by the Executive Council, one of the other signatories to the May 25 letter published this information on his website the day before this letter was sent.
  12. One week later, on September 29, 2011, Bishop Henderson informed Bishop Lawrence that “serious charges” of abandonment were under investigation by the Disciplinary Board. Bishop Lawrence was also given a copy of the allegations under review, which were contained in an “Addendum” (described in #5 above), but was not given any other documents, including the letter or document to which the “Addendum” was attached, that might clarify the context of the allegations. The cover document could have been redacted to protect the identity of individuals. One of the signatories to the May 25 letter has stated on his website without citation of any other source that these allegations against Lawrence were submitted to the Disciplinary Board “during the summer.”
  13. The next day, September 30, 2011, the attorney for the Disciplinary Board wrote the diocese requesting copies of certain records as part of the Board’s review of the matter.
  14. On October 17, 2011, Bishop Henderson wrote fellow Disciplinary Board members that “because I believe that time is of an essence, I have made a command decision and today requested” that the lawyer who had formerly worked on “the Bishop Lawrence information” replace the attorney who had sent the September 30 letter only later to recuse herself on October 14.

In light of this sequence of events and the manifest importance of this matter for the church as a whole, we believe greater transparency is required than has thus far been displayed. In particular, we suggest the following questions are of sufficient importance to require prompt answers:

  • When was “the Bishop Lawrence information” first brought to the Title IV Review Committee and who initiated this process? When first submitted to that Committee was the information contained in the document entitled “Addendum” that was subsequently provided to Bishop Lawrence? Or was it initially submitted in another form or by other parties? 
  • Why was the Lucka letter of May 25 to the Presiding Bishop, Bonnie Anderson and Executive Council, which prompted the Executive Council’s June action, not provided to the diocese at the time or ever made public? What is the relation between its “Addendum” and the (in part identical) “Addendum” now under review by the Disciplinary Board? 
  • Why was the June “decision” by the Executive Council handled as it was? Why was the diocese not informed for over two months? How has the Executive Council continued “to monitor the actions” of the South Carolina convention? Who, if anyone, suggested to Lucka that she “wait” to inform others, including those on behalf of whom she had sent her original letter? Who later “told” her to do so on September 22? Was this timing connected in any way with Bishop Henderson’s call to Bishop Lawrence on September 29 and the renewed activity in the Board’s review?
  • To what extent have there been communications among the Presiding Bishop’s office, Bonnie Anderson and her chancellor, the Executive Council, the Title IV Review Committee/Disciplinary Board and the Forum and others in the Diocese of South Carolina about these issues? They have expressed public interest in these matters for some time and have been in communication about them. To what extent have they coordinated their actions?
  • After all this confusing delay and consideration of this matter at all levels of the church for several months, why is time now of the essence?
  • This matter has now been fast tracked into an abandonment procedure that has but two stops: the Disciplinary Board and the House of Bishops. As Bishop Henderson noted in contrasting abandonment with the normal hearing procedures of Title IV, “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.”

The church is entitled to transparency about this process, abbreviated as it is.

In the interest of transparency, ACI notes that it supports and works with the Communion Partner dioceses on Title IV and other matters.

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