In "A Closer Look at the Attempted Coup," liberal blogger Father Jake calls our attention to some court proceedings in Pittsburgh, in which conservative archbishop-in-waiting Robert Duncan is being challenged by one of his moderate parishes. In a pretrial hearing, the judge evidently started to "get it" -- he recognized the challenging parish's concern that the Network (a rump traditionalist group headed by +Duncan) is seeking to set up a parallel church organization that will eventually displace the Episcopal Church.
THE COURT: Well, the Court is troubled by obviously the smoking gun that Mr. DeForest [counsel for the challenging parish] was looking for was provided to him ....
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THE COURT: That is the smoking gun that Mr. DeForest has been looking for, that you [the Diocese] seem to retain ownership of [the parish's] property as we move into this new alignment, and we're going to have a replacement jurisdiction.
It sounds like what he is eluding to [sic] is that the Bishop Duncan and his associates, those who believe in the same way he does, are moving to try to construct the parallel universe and to execute and transfer the parishes, the members of the congregations and the assets of these congregations into this parallel universe.
They are building it side by side, and they are not being stopped .... What Mr. DeForest and his clients seemed to fear is that this will become a fait accompli ....
The Chapman "Secret Plan" Letter Revisited
This is an opportune time to revisit the Rev. Geoffrey Chapman's "secret plan" letter of December 28, 2003, linked to above. Its author is rector of St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley, PA, reportedly the largest parish in +Duncan's Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Stressing the need for secrecy, Fr. Chapman's letter set forth a detailed plan -- it would not be unfair to call it a conspiracy -- for creating what its author called a "replacement jurisdiction" to supplant the Episcopal Church. The plan called for circumvention, or outright disobedience, of canon law. Excerpts are reproduced below:
. . . Please keep this document confidential, sharing it in hard copy (printed format) only with people you fully trust, and do not pass it on electronically to anyone under any circumstances.
1) Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission. We believe in the end this should be a “replacement” jurisdiction with confessional standards, maintaining the historic faith of our Communion, closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism, emerging from the disastrous actions of General Convention (2003).
[ED.: A Washington Post article reported that the letter's author said in a phone interview that (in the Post's words), "that means traditionalists hope their network of parishes will supplant the Episcopal Church USA as the recognized Anglican offshoot in the United States."]
2) . . . [We will] seek transfer of Parish oversight across geographic diocesan boundaries to an orthodox bishop, the right of pastoral succession, liberty of conscience In financial stewardship (the right to “redirect” funds), and negotiated property settlements affirming the retention of ownership in the local congregation.
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Stage 1 will feature “spiritual realignment” while remaining within the letter of current canons. Parishes would publicly announce that their relationship with their diocesan Bishop Is “severely damaged” because of the events of the summer [of 2003], and that they are now looking to one of the Primates or an AAC orthodox Bishop for their “primary pastoral leadership”. Announcements will need to be carefully phrased to avoid canonical violations.
. . . We will creatively redirect finances. We will refocus on Gospel initiatives. We will innovatively move around, beyond or within the canons to “act like the church God is making us”. Stage 1 will enable congregations/clusters to keep clear use of their buildings for the foreseeable future, and would give critical time to strengthen our leadership circles for what promises to be a turbulent spiritual season.
Stage 2 will launch at some yet to be determined moment, probably in 2004. During this phase, we will seek, under the guidance of the Primates, negotiated settlements in matters of property, jurisdiction, pastoral succession and communion, If adequate settlements are not within reach, a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary.
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i. Remember confidentiality! Much is at stake over these next months. The careers of godly men and women, the possibility of congregational survival, the Anglican witness to Christ in our culture and generation, etc. We ask you not to spread these emails over the internet, and to speak of them only to people you trust. In the end, everything will be spoken plainly, but the ability to get organize and take counsel together effectively depends upon our readiness to keep confidentiality. . . .
An AAC spokesman later told the Associated Press that Fr. Chapman did not speak for the AAC on policy matters. But the facts suggest otherwise:
- Fr. Chapman's letter said that he was writing "on behalf of the American Anglican Council and their Bishops’ Committee on Adequate Episcopal Oversight (AEO)." He said he was "serving as their response person for AEO, and I want to brief you on our progress. This document will get you up to speed on where we are going."
- Moreover, Fr. Chapman is rector / "senior pastor" of a large parish, in the diocese headed by the chief of the Network. It'd be understandable if readers assumed him to be a man of some competence and judgment. *
* Fr. Chapman's naïveté in believing that his letter would not become public certainly gives us reason to wonder about his judgment. Apparently the judge in the Pittsburgh litigation had similar thoughts; he observed on page 26 of the PDF file cited above:
Isn't it amazing? Every time you say that this shall be confidential, don't show it to anybody -- ... [i]t's guaranteed that you are going to tell half a dozen people. What is the sense of having entrusted to you if you can't tell someone?
Interestingly, the Web site of Fr. Chapman's parish does not identify the parish as an Episcopal church. It consistently refers to Fr. Chapman as "senior pastor," and notes that the parish offers baptism by immersion as well as by sprinking. I had to look hard in the Web site to find any mention of the Episcopal Church whatsoever.
The AAC President's "Unauthorized and Inaccurate Statement"
There are other bits and pieces of evidence suggesting that some conservatives are secretly planning to break away from the Episcopal Church. A little over a year ago, the Rev. David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, found himself in the embarrassing position of having one of his statements publicly disavowed by his own organization:
A press release issued yesterday by two newly formed congregations in Georgia that have come under the oversight of the Diocese of Bolivia included an unauthorized and inaccurate statement from the Rev. Canon David Anderson, American Anglican Council (AAC) President. The quotation indicated that Canon Anderson and the AAC have been working to gather together orthodox dioceses to operate independently of the Episcopal Church. ...
(Emphasis added.) The AAC's disavowal did not say that Fr. Anderson had been misquoted. Instead, it baldly asserted that "[t]he AAC actually continues to work within the Episcopal Church to advance the realignment of Anglicanism in North America."
Regardless of the AAC's formal disavowal, it's quite telling that its president thought -- and, evidently, was willing to be publicly quoted -- in this way.
Where's the Outrage?
Why haven't the moderates and liberals raised more of a stink about all this? We can admire their willingness to turn the other cheek, to take the hit. But in general that works only if the other guy is playing by the rules. If he's not, your turning the other cheek is likely to result only in your being hit again, and again, and again. These guys' penchant for secrecy suggests that they're not playing by the rules.
Then again, perhaps the moderate- and liberal leadership knows that some of these conservatives have a tin ear for group dynamics -- "politics," if you will -- as evidenced by the examples above. Maybe the moderates and liberals are deliberately taking the hit for the time being, anticipating that, in due course, the tin-eared among the conservatives are likely to do their cause more harm than good. It's happened before; there's no reason to think it couldn't happen again.