Friday, July 25, 2014

Quincy Appeal Affirms Lower Court Decision

The Fourth District of the Illinois Appellate Court has just upheld Judge Ortbal's ruling in The Diocese of Quincy vs. The Episcopal Church. In their ruling, the justices commend the lower court for its "detailed order," and express concurrence with the view that the Dennis Canon may impose restrictions on a Parish's ability to dispose of its property but impose no comparable restriction on the freedom of a Diocese. "A review of the evidence presented in this case, including testimony from Dr. Mullin, the Church's own witness, does not clearly demonstrate the existence of a hierarchical relationship between the Diocese and the Church," declares the court. "Indeed, the Church's authority is not readily ascertainable without an impermissible investigation into matters of polity." (Para. 48)

¶ 19 During the three-week trial that followed, 11 witnesses testified. We will recount only what is necessary to resolve the issues raised on appeal.

¶ 20 Dr. Robert Bruce Mullin testified for the Church as an expert regarding its structure and history. Mullin opined the Church was hierarchical. When asked the basis for his opinion, Mullin responded, "Because it is self-evident from evidence itself, you know, that all you have to do is look at the structure of the Episcopal Church and history of the Episcopal Church and it is a hierarchical church. No one is going to question the Episcopal Church is hierarchical before 2008." Mullin then testified in detail regarding the history of the Church.

¶ 21 However, on cross-examination, Mullin agreed his opinion the Church is hierarchical is not expressed in the Church's constitution. He also agreed neither the Church's constitution nor its canons specifically reference a three-tiered form of governance. Mullin further agreed the Church's constitution and canons do not prevent a diocese from withdrawing from the Church. Mullin was unaware of any attempt under Illinois law to remove the members of the Trustees from their offices. While Mullin testified the members of the Diocese forfeited their offices by leaving the Church, he could not point to the "magic moment" when they did so. He also agreed the Church cannot compel a diocese to contribute any money. Instead, the Church suggests what should be contributed. Historically, the lack of support from the dioceses has been a "frequent problem." Mullin also admitted the Church's constitution and canons do not provide for the discipline of a diocese.

¶ 22 Dr. Jeremy Bonner, a specialist in Church history, testified for the Diocese. According to Bonner's testimony, the Church is "an extremely decentralized association" of state churches or dioceses. The Church's constitution lacks a supremacy clause and a mechanism to enforce its canons or legislation against a diocese. According to Bonner, the most striking characteristic of the Church is its lack of any supreme judiciary. During his testimony, the following colloquy took place:

"Q. In your opinion, can a religious organization which lacks a constitutionally established executive and judicial function which has no language of supremacy in its constitution function as an hierarchical church?

A. I do not see how.

Q. How can [the Church] then enforce its canons against a member diocese?

A. It can't. It can express its displeasure and can exert moral outrage and attempt to persuade its dioceses of the need to change, but recent disputes have shown the limitations of that strategy."

¶ 23 Bonner also testified he was unaware of any canon that purports to give the Church authority to assert control over a diocese's property. He explained while the so-called "Dennis Canon" (Title I.7.4) purports to declare a trust in parish property to restrict a parish's ability to dispose of it, that canon does not apply to property owned by a diocese.   

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wrapping It Up: South Carolina Trial, July 24, 2014

Day 13 of trial
They say one is known by the company one keeps, in this case the Bishop of South Carolina to my right and the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era in the "pew" directly behind me. Perhaps notoriety is preferable to obscurity, after all.

Whenever one is spared an ordeal, initial relief is soon succeeded by a measure of regret that one has been unable to make public the fruits of one’s research. After two weeks in Charleston and five days sitting in the St. George courthouse, the news that I was not to take the stand was hardly a surprise, however, after this morning’s bravura performance by Gettysburg College's Allen Guelzo, who delivered one of the most lucid pieces of witness testimony of the whole trial.

Beginning with the review of an eighteenth century Act of Parliament acknowledging the Moravians as a “Protestant Episcopal” church, Diocese of South Carolina attorney Alan Runyan pressed on to explore the autonomous character of the state associations of colonial churches that existed after the American Revolution, discussed the notion of subsidiarity as expressed in William White’s initial proposals for the organization of a national church, and examined the nature of diocesan independence as experienced by South Carolina Episcopalians between 1861 and 1865. In passing, the court heard the public reading of various extracts from Powel Dawley’s The Episcopal Church and Its Work, published in 1955 as part of the Church’s Teaching Series (and which Bishop Mark Lawrence used while training to be a lay reader in The Episcopal Church in the 1970s), many of which are noteworthy for their lamentation about the decentralized character of the national church, almost forty years after the establishment of the National Council (later the Executive Council).

Both Mary Kostel and David Booth Beers did their best with a witness for whom they were unprepared (this is permitted under South Carolina law, as Guelzo was introduced for the purpose of rebuttal of their earlier argument pertaining to the manner in which the national church exercised control over dioceses and states). Kostel focused on the writings of nineteenth century commentators that have been at the center of my counterpart Robert Bruce Mullin’s arguments, but Guelzo fought back, in the process eliciting from the judge the revelation that state law requires that an expert witness have the freedom to offer a critique of a proffered document if he declines to accept it as “learned treatise” (something which came as news to a number of the South Carolina attorneys present for the independent Diocese). Freed from a simple acknowledgment of the statements presented, Guelzo happily explained how most of the advocates of national church hierarchy in the nineteenth century were ritualist partisans and certainly enjoyed no authority from the General Convention to say what they said. Asked for a counter argument from the same era, he proffered Calvin Colton’s Genius and Mission of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States (1853), a source of which, I must confess, I was unaware, but which I’ve no doubt fits the bill. The point at issue is that any notion of a churchwide consensus on polity is simply unsustainable. There followed a fruitless set of exchanges between Guelzo and David Beers in which the latter was in fairly short order outmaneuvered, when he attempted to switch the focus to twentieth century canon law, of which Guelzo did not profess to be an expert.

So the final historical verdict on the Diocese of South Carolina is delivered by the premier historian of the Reformed Episcopal Church, who after serving for many years as an REC priest was received into the then Episcopal Diocese of Quincy in 2000 and now assists in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, whose Provisional Bishop, Clifton Daniel, gave testimony on behalf of the national church earlier in these proceedings!

It’s been an interesting four years from July 2010, when I began to assist the Diocese of Quincy, until today. I’ve got to meet some interesting people and developed a fondness for a number of lawyers, while still rendering up thanks that I’m not part of the legal profession. For all that, I hope this whole process will prove to have been worth it. I have no doubts about the history, for the record is clear, but whether the lawsuits may ultimately have served to distract the Church from what is meant to be its focus is another matter entirely.