“Scrap, scrap, scrap” (and a few questions)
Do you remember at school when a fight started in the playground and everybody gathered round? Here’s the Anglican version of that.
On the 17th of December, the Revd David Miller of St John’s Church, Petaluma, CA, informed his Bishop that he wanted to (as the canonical law allows) be transferred to the Diocese of Argentina and that the whole church was going with him. The Bishop threw a strop and decided that he would strip him of his licence instead. Connecticut Six has all the correspondence that ensued.
For those who don’t want to trawl through all the letters, let me give you a highlighted summary.
On the 17th of December, Miller wrote to the Bishop saying:
I respectfully request Letters Dimissory under Canon III.9.4(a), for a transfer to the Anglican Diocese of Argentina in the Province of the Southern Cone … St John’s will now be known as St John’s Anglican Church, in Petaluma, California, and will continue to worship on the site at 5th and “C” Streets.
Needless to say, the Bishop wasn’t terribly happy, so he wrote back:
Having read your letter very closely, it appears to me that by this instrument you have clearly renounced your Orders in the Episcopal Church. Therefore, in accordance with Canon III.13.1 of the Canons of the Episcopal Church, I accept your Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry … Please vacate the premises of St Johns, Petaluma.
Blimey!! Which letter did the Bishop read, because it didn’t seem to be the one that Miller sent. Needless to say, Miller’s lawyer needed to remind the Bishop of one or two things on the 30th of December:
In your letter to Fr. Miller dated December 27, 2006, you stated that â€œit appears that by this instrument (Fr. Millerâ€™s letter dated December 17, 2006) you have clearly renounced your Orders in the Episcopal Church.â€ Unfortunately, you and your canonical advisors have misinterpreted Fr. Millerâ€™s letter. Nowhere in his letter do the words â€œrenunciation of ordersâ€ appear. Fr. Miller asked that Letters Dimissory under Canon III.9.4(a) be issued, transferring him to the Anglican Diocese of Argentina, under the Most Rev. Gregory Venables.
When a proper request for Letters Dimissory is presented under Canon III.9.4(a), the clear reading of the canon (in imperative terms of â€œshallâ€ not â€œmayâ€) requires that the requested bishop provide such Letters. The language of the canon at issue does not
require a physical relocation. The requested bishop has no discretion to refuse a valid request for Letters Dimissory from a priest unlike Canon III.7.6(b)(1) that provides the requested bishop with such discretion when it pertains to deacons. Fr. Miller made a valid request on December 17, 2006, while he was in good standing as a priest in your diocese and without being amendable to any canonical charges. Your refusal to grant Letters Dimissory and summary deposition of him is an abuse of discretion and violates both fundamental and basic due process under canon law and is therefore void on its face.
Pursuant to past precedents under Re Alberto Morales of the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico/Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire and Re Judith Gentle Hardy of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts/Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburg, your refusal to carry out an imperative duty under Canon III.9.4(a) can be taken as Letters Dimissory by the receiving bishopâ€”the Most Reverend Gregory Venables of the Anglican Diocese of Argentina. As such, Fr. Miller has been received by Archbishop Venables and is an Anglican priest in good standing in the Diocese of Argentina, in the Province of the Southern Cone.
It’s like an episode of Perry Mason isn’t it? In the meantime, the Bishop wrote to the Diocese (and posted on the website on the 2nd of January) the following on December 27th:
David Miller requested Letters Dimissory to the Diocese of Argentina in the Province of the Southern Cone, under the jurisdiction of The Most Reverend Gregory James Venable. I have declined to send Letters Dimissory for David Miller to the Diocese of Argentina. When, and if, David Miller physically moves to Argentina, the question of sending Letters Dimissory will be revisited.
I have chosen to view David Millerâ€™s letter of December 17, 2006 as a request to renounce orders in this church. This action was laid before the clerical members of the Standing Committee on December 26 and 27. They concurred with my acceptance of David Millerâ€™s Renunciation of Holy Orders. I pronounced and recorded this action in the presence of two priests of this Diocese on December 27, 2006. As of that date, David Miller is no longer a Priest-in-Good-Standing in this Diocese and is no longer the Rector of St. Johnâ€™s Episcopal Church in Petaluma.
Blimey!! Miller’s lawyer was not happy about this and wrote back:
In the letter and document titled â€œNotice of Voluntary Renunciation of Ordained Ministryâ€ dated December 27, 2006, Jerry Lamb, the former president and bishop of your diocesan corporation misinterpreted my clientâ€™s letter to him dated December 17, 2006. In good faith, I sent Bishop Lamb a letter clarifying that my client was requesting for a transfer via Letters Dimissory. Though it is true that Fr. Miller does not want to ministerially associate himself with the current positions of The Episcopal Church, that is a far step from renouncing his ordination/orders in The Episcopal Church. As you know, an Episcopal/Anglican priest can serve in foreign Anglican provinces without having to renounce their original ordination/orders.
Though it is hard to imagine how someone could misinterpret Fr. Millerâ€™s request for transfer as a voluntary renunciation of orders, nevertheless, Bishop Lamb has clearly shown that it is possible. Now that it has been clarified, we ask that you rectify and change any statements and/or notices which expresses or implies Fr. Miller having â€œvoluntarily renounced his ordersâ€ and any other statements with similar wordingsâ€”be it to your national church, members of your diocese and/or publications on line. If for some reason the above explanation is not clear, would you please contact me for further clarifications prior to making an assumption?
Please understand that we are not limiting your freedom of speech or religious discretion to render ecclesiastical decisions, whether we agree with them or not. Therefore, you can state that you have â€œdeposedâ€ Fr. Miller according to your canons, despite our disagreements as to whether you denied Fr. Miller due process to defend himself. You should not, however, make statements that Fr. Miller â€œvoluntarily renounced ordersâ€ or statements to that effect when it is falseâ€”especially after we have informed you in the letter dated December 30, 2006 and with this letter.
We trust that you will in good faith make the changes immediately and that it was not done out of malice. Please be advised that the false statement by Bishop Lamb has hurt Fr. Miller personally and professionally and can also be a violation of his personal rights under California Civil Code Â§Â§45 and 46(3).
As I said before – “scrap, scrap, scrap”. You can go to the Diocese of North California website here and download the statement from Bishop Lamb. It still reads the same as it did on the 2nd, so obviously he’s ignoring the letter from Miller’s lawyer.
So what’s going on here? Well, the new Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori (KJS) has made it very clear that she’s going to fight the Orthodox parishes and dioceses all the way. That’s why the Bishop’s first reply to Miller was copied into her, Charles Mack, Canon John Rees (the legal advisor to the Anglican Consultative Council and an ACO bod) and Canon Gregory Cameron (the Deputy Secretary General of the ACO). This is not just the diocese taking on Miller, it’s the whole of 815.
But I have a question. Why copy in Canon John Rees? Gregory Cameron I can understand, but Canon Rees? I mean, he supports various ACO operations (for example the Panel of Reference) but what has he got to do with a small internal matter in California?
Did Canon Rees offer any advice to Bishop Lamb of North California? If he did in what capacity did he do that? I would hate for there to be any implication that the ACO and it’s representatives has been involved in what is an 815 agenda, because that would look as though they were taking sides. Any ideas anybody?