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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reflections on San Joaquin

I recently read a letter from my former bishop, the Rt. Rev. Ed Little, reflecting on the actions (including the deposition of two bishops) taken at the most recent House of Bishop's meeting. His full letter can be found here. The section that struck me:

...As many of you know, I served in the Diocese of San Joaquin for fourteen years before coming to Northern Indiana. Thus Bishop Schofield – and many of the leaders of the diocese – have been part of my life for a long time. Bishop Cox, too, is revered and respected, with an important place in the church’s recovery of the ministry of healing. Both bishops acted in accordance with their consciences. Yet I believe that their actions are disordered, theologically and canonically. Nothing good ever comes from schism. When Christians separate from one another, the gospel is hampered and our ability to offer Jesus to a needy world severely compromised. In the days leading up to the vote on the two bishops, I found myself torn between conflicting responsibilities: to the unity and canonical integrity of the church on the one hand, and to honoring conscience in the midst of conflict on the other...

...In the end, I voted No on the resolutions to depose Bishops Schofield and Cox, one of a very small number of bishops to do so. (Since the resolutions passed on voice votes, there’s no specific count.) During the debate over the resolution to depose Bishop Schofield, I spoke to the House and said something like this: that Bishop Schofield is guilty as charged, and his actions have unleashed chaos upon his diocese and on the church. And yet, I said, I would vote against the resolution to depose him. Why? Because a deposition is the canonical equivalent of the “death penalty”; it effectively closes the door to the possibility of future reconciliation. And so, I said, it would be better to find a way of accomplishing the same end (removing Bishop Schofield from his position as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin) without the negative overtones of a deposition. A cord gently cut can be more easily re-tied. If we allow our friends to depart peacefully, we are more likely in God’s time to welcome them home.

Anyone that has known me for any length of time, knows how very highly I think of +Ed Little. He was my ordaining bishop; and for the many years that made up my process toward ordination his strong faith and pastoral heart nurtured the faithful articulation of my own call in some deep and profound ways. He has offered both prayerful challenge and encouragement when I needed them, and I am grateful to call him both mentor and friend.

Likewise, I believe as he does in reconciliation as primary to our life as Christian disciples. In my daughter's vernacular, Jesus was "all about" reconciliation, among people as well as between God and humanity. That was what he taught, how he lived, and why he died and rose again. If we are to be faithful, this is the example we must follow.

And this is why, with all due respect, I must (with reluctance and a certain trepidation) disagree with +Ed's decision here, especially in regard to Bp. Schofield. While I am not so intimately acquainted as he is with the particulars in San Joaquin, I do currently serve in a diocese whose former bishop also carved an incredible trail of damage and dissension in his wake before he was removed. My parishes (and occasionally my colleagues) have more than once exhibited behavior eerily similar to that of domestic abuse survivors. If these good folks thought there was any chance that CI Jones could resume episcopal ministry, I can only imagine the reaction that would be born of their history of hurt, anger, and fear-- like ripping scabs off wounds that have only begun to heal.

It seems to me that the actions of Bp. Schofield have "unleashed chaos upon his diocese and on the church" for so long-- and have been so hurtful, and so divisive-- that his removal should have happened long before this. We in Montana have been years recovering, and will be many years more-- and the damage done in SJ goes even deeper. I believe this deposition* will ultimately provide the greatest opportunity for healing and reconciliation in the long run.

Sometimes "loving your neighbor" means caring enough to refuse to allow the cycle of violence to continue.

*FWIW, I have little patience with the suggestion that the vote was not valid. So far as I can see, it was the same method as was used in the recent past (2004), which results no one questioned. Yes, the wording of the canons needs to be cleaned up; but if the specified quorum is present, then the work of the HoB may be conducted, be it consent to the election of bishops or the removal thereof.


Blogger The young fogey said...

My views on San Joaquin are in links in entries at my (libertarian, Catholic, no-clobbering, no conservative clichés, no liberal whingeing) blog. Long story short I defend both dioceses in that part of the world's right to be, purely on libertarian grounds, including keeping the churches they're using.

I know how Bishop Jones was sacked - somebody found out he had an affair ages ago, long before he was a bishop.

But why?

I asked one friend originally from Montana but she's lived elsewhere for a long time so she didn't know.

Within bounds of propriety and confidentiality... how exactly was Bishop Jones horrible?

March 31, 2008 4:32 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

A good question. We had actually studied Bp. Jones' case in my Canon Law class in seminary; but I did not know the depth of the problem either, until I got here and people began to trust me enough to tell me their stories. Very broadly... a short list I've been given would include:

--neglect of diocesan congregations (I know of one church which had not seen the bishop in more than 5 years before he was removed).

--abusive behavior toward both clergy and laity. Women priests (especially younger women) harassed, and men threatened and browbeaten. One laywoman of my acquaintance left the church in her community after he shouted her down in a rage and and even threatened to sue her over a trivial matter (a long story, some of which is confidential).

--Transfer of problem priests to less favored parishes, rather than dealing with issues of inadequate pastoring, poor relationship skills and/or misconduct.

--Extensive use of "informers," and pitting clergy against one another.

--Questionable decisions that focused on personal benefit, rather than the good of the church. For example, his publicly stated approach to struggling congregations (used at least once to my personal knowledge) was to "let them dwindle"-- confiscate their savings and then ignore them until they closed, so the property could be sold and funds transferred to Episcopacy endowment.

There's more, but I think you get the idea. The diocesan leadership here had years of trying to intervene, in many ways, before the case of the affair came up and the House of Bishops took action.

March 31, 2008 8:01 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

I should also add that, as I recall, the final determination against Bp Jones was influenced by his choice to ignore earlier HoB recommendations, among other things refusing to seek counseling about all of the above, or even to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with his behavior.

March 31, 2008 8:18 PM  

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