Blue’s Clues: Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons (continued)

Law & Order CI

This is the twenty-fourth post in Blue’s Clues, a series on the resolutions and reports of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. The index of posts is here, and my index of resolutions and likely votes is here.

This post continues where I left off with the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons. They have given us the gift of fifty resolutions, so that was a bit more than either I wanted to tackle or you wanted to read in a single post. Remember to read the committee’s report. Without delay, let’s continue with more resolutions.

A110: Creating a Single Court of Review. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

In the clergy discipline process, there are courts of review (one in each of our nine provinces)  “to receive and determine appeals from Hearing Panels” (Canon IV.5.4). In other words, they are (to simplify things) appeals courts for the discipline process. This resolution aims to create one central court for the whole church, instead of nine courts, which makes sense. The current system requires nine times the training, cost, and recruitment. Based on the workload, one court will suffice.

A111: Amend Article V of the Constitution. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

It appears that the committee attached the wrong explanation to this resolution. This is the second reading of a proposed constitutional amendment, since it was passed on a first reading in 2015 (2015-D003). The purpose of the amendment is to allow the creation of new dioceses (such as a merger or division) even without bishop(s) currently in the diocese(s). Under the current constitution, for two dioceses to merge, for example, they must each have a bishop. But it is precisely at moments of transition that dioceses may be more open to new possibilities. This allows standing committees, acting as ecclesiastical authority in the absence of a bishop, to carry on with merger work. There are still plenty of safeguards. Any division or merger must be ratified by all Diocesan Conventions involved, and then finally by General Convention. Creating this flexibility makes good sense.

Disclosure: The 2015 resolution is one of a group that was submitted by several colleagues and I as we were seeking to write legislation to improve the structures of our church.

A112: Establishing a Task Force on Diocesan Vitality. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This establishes a task force to “facilitate a continuing dialogue among bishops and diocesan and provincial leadership of The Episcopal Church to engage in frank discussion about diocesan collaboration, vitality, and shared ministry.” If we are going to have a task force to look at diocesan vitality, they are going to need a much more specific mandate than that. What we don’t need is a report in three years that is filled with more feelings than facts and actionable recommendations. Should we tell the task force what vitality would look like? Or do we hope they will articulate a definition?

On an unrelated, technical note, this resolution would also need to be corrected. It says the task force should consist of “three bishops, three clergy persons, and six lay persons.” But “clergy person” would include bishops. Presumably they mean “presbyters or deacons”, and they should say so. And if they want to ensure that all three orders of ministry are represented, that second category needs to say “three presbyters or deacons, at least one of whom shall be a presbyter and one of whom should be a deacon” or similar. It is theologically important to cut against any idea that “bishops and clergy” speak of two distinct categories. Bishops are a subset of the latter.

Back to the main point. We do need to have conversations around diocesan vitality. Some are already happening. If we are going to form a committee to lead or to focus the conversation, we need to be crystal clear what the committee’s job is. I don’t think this resolution does that, other than vague generalities.

A113: Amend Article V, Section 4 of the Constitution. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This amends the constitution so that when dioceses merge, the newly formed diocese can create a fresh set of diocesan constitution and canons, unlike the current system which specifies that the larger diocese’s constitution and canons become effective for the new diocese. I’m a fan of flexibility and clarity in governance, and this offers both.

A114: Amend Canon I.10 Regarding the Union of Dioceses. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

I’ll just quote the explanation here, which nicely summarizes what the resolution does. “The process for uniting dioceses or portions of dioceses is simplified and places the decisions for leadership and other matters of importance with leaders at the local level and removes provisions relying on seniority or which diocese is the ‘surviving’ diocese.” Makes sense to me.

A115: Adopt and Implement Charter for Safety. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

As regular readers will know, I don’t usually like to vote for resolutions that merely commend things, even charters on subjects that I care about. This resolution is a bit different though, in that it asks General Convention to “join the 2012 Anglican Consultative Council in adopting the following ‘Charter for Safety of People Within the Churches of the Anglican Communion‘ as a summary of The Episcopal Church’s policy regarding maintaining the safety of all who come to or work for our churches.”

The charter (contained in the full text of the resolution) is excellent. What I like about this resolution is that it adopts the charter as official policy. This should form the basis of future documents on creating safe churches, and this provides a benchmark for those who might raise concerns when the church seems unsafe.

A116: Proposal to place the Title IV Training under the authority of the Standing Commission and allocate funding for maintenance and updating of training materials. Full text. Likely vote: NO, but I am open to hearing reasons for a yes.

This amends the canons to task this standing commission (the one that generated these 50 resolutions) to “Conduct a continuing and comprehensive review and update of the Title IV training materials, including drafting such changes as are necessitated by changes to these Constitution and Canons, or as may be deemed appropriate to maintain such training materials in a current and effective status.”

Unless there’s some kind of extraordinary reason to the contrary, it doesn’t make sense to me that a group of volunteers who already have a very extensive mandate would be the right people to create and maintain training materials for clergy discipline matters. It seems like exactly the sort of task that should be done by churchwide staff, drawing on outside experts as needed. We need excellent training materials, but I think there’s a better path to get them.

A117: Amend Canon IV 6.9. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This creates an appeal process if a reference panel in a Title IV discipline process decides to take no action. Allowing the complainant in a clergy discipline matter to appeal a “no action” decision makes good sense. This helps to prevent a charge that charges were “swept under the rug.” There are tight but reasonable timelines here, which is kind both to the complainant and the respondent.

A118: Proposed Amendments to Canon IV.13. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This clarifies how documents from hearing panels in discipline matters will be shared with the public, as well as access to meetings of the hearing panel. Transparency in clergy discipline cases is important. I’ll quote the whole explanation, since it’s pretty brief. “These revisions are intended to clarify various elements of the process of a Hearing Panel and the means by which Hearing Panel documents are to be released and the timing for releasing such documents to affirm the transparency of Hearing Panel proceedings, including Orders and Notices of Accord. These amendments are also intended to provide for limited instances in which documents may be redacted to protect any Injured Person or allegedly Injured Person.”

A119: Proposed Amendments to Canon IV.15. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Same thing but for (provincial) courts of review. Assuming the resolution passes eliminating provincial courts, these new changes would apply to the single court of review for our church. Either way, transparency and clarity are good things.

A120: Amend Canon IV.19.30 to Create Discipline Database, Amend Canon III.12.7(c) & Canon IV.13.11. Full text. Likely vote: NO, but I would vote yes if this were fixed by amendment.

This resolution creates a churchwide database of clergy discipline proceedings to be hosted at the Episcopal Church’s archives. The idea of a centralized database so that one can study trends is a good one, and I support the concept. But I have several concerns, each of which is a deal breaker for my ability to vote yes.

  • The resolution does not specify what data are to be collected. This needs to be written into the canon so that there isn’t “data creep” with the collection of additional data beyond what is envisioned in the commission’s report. Even so, that data that they propose for collection pose risks to both complainants and respondents.
  • The database will contain data on all cases referred to a reference panel, even if the reference panel decides to take no action. Should “innocent” clergy information be stored here? Will it be clear to those search the database or running reports which cases were “no action” and which ones proceeded further?
  • The database will “not contain: (i) the personal identifying information of the Respondents, Injured Persons, or witnesses; (ii) Privileged Communications; or (iii) other information that would be otherwise prohibited from disclosure under this Title or other applicable law.” But here’s the thing. Our church is a very small church. Even without names of clergy or congregations, it is not at all difficult to imagine that the data could reveal whose information is being captured. If the intent is for anonymity in the data, then the procedures for removing identifiable information need to be much more stringent. And there needs to be accountability, presumably to the Archivist and diocesan bishop involved, including remedies for adversely affected respondents or complainants. Someone’s life or career could be ruined by accidental disclosure, and it is likely to happen once data are collected. So we need to know who is accountable, what the consequences are, and what remedies obtain for affected complainants and respondents.
  • The database is to be “accessible to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons, Chief Legal Officer, and Executive Council.” I don’t see why everyone on executive council or this standing commission should need unfettered access to this information. I worked in IT before I was ordained, and I learned well you generally don’t want to provide access to data unless someone has a legitimate need. Then there is provision for “to other Church governance bodies or other Church officials” to have access. That’s alarmingly broad, and I also note that no one outside the church hierarchy is allowed access. What if a clergy association or victim advocacy group wants to study the data for trends? The proposed rules would not allow this. However, there is provision for the broad group of other church officials to be cleared by “the approval of the the Executive Council and the Chief Legal Officer of the Church.” That is the standard that should apply to all access. It establishes that those with legitimate need can access the data. Very few people should have access based on a role in the church. If we want to avoid bothering executive council with every request for access, then maybe the Chief Legal Officer and the Archivist, or perhaps the presiding officers, can grant access. And there should be required documentation of who had access and why.

I do think the concept of a central database for the purpose of monitoring trends is a very good idea. But this has not been thought through adequately given the high risks involved. If the legislative committee has time to perfect this, I’ll vote for it. But otherwise, I cannot vote for the collection of this data without safeguards for complainants and respondents.

A121: Amend Canon IV.2 Remove Definition of Procedural Officer. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

From the explanation: “Canon IV.2 contains a definition for an office which does not otherwise exist under Canon and this definition should be removed to make the Canons internally consistent.” Makes sense. And, by the way, if you read the explanation about how this orphan definition was created, it’s a clear side effect of too many disparate efforts to amend our canons, which are a mess. We really do need to start over.

A122: Amend Article IX to change Removal to Admonition. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This is a correction to use the current term “admonition” instead of “removal” in the sentences pronounced against bishops, priests, and deacons in discipline matters.

A123: Amend Canon IV.3.1 to Address misrepresentations in Ordination process and clarify sexual misconduct in Title IV. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This adds as an offense under clergy discipline, “intentionally misrepresenting or omitting any material fact in applying for admission to Postulancy, for admission to Candidacy, for ordination as a Deacon or Priest, for reception from another Church as a Deacon or Priest, or for nomination or appointment as a Bishop.” Yes, lying during one’s ordination process in a material way should be grounds for discipline.

There is nothing in the submitted resolution about sexual misconduct, so I’m not sure why it’s in the title here. Probably an editing error.

A124: Amend Canon IV.2 Terminology of Sexual Misconduct. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.

This resolution clarifies the definition of sexual misconduct in important ways. So far, so good.

But then it provides a “loophole” I find puzzling. It says, that sexual misconduct “does not include Sexual Behavior with a person with whom the Member of the Clergy previously had a Pastoral Relationship if the Member of the Clergy has obtained the prior written permission of the Bishop Diocesan.” I understand the desire for this loophole. Just because a priest meets someone while wearing a collar, doesn’t mean any future relationship is out of the question. There are plenty of circumstances where some future sexual relationship would be appropriate.

However, one can see how this could be abused. Imagine a priest is attracted to a parishioner (or vice versa) and there’s a bit of flirtation. The priest says “go to another church” and then gets a letter from the bishop. OK, maybe that’s fine. But having known about a number of clergy-parishioner relationships that went very badly, I think it is also dangerous.

We do not want to be in a church where clergy are routinely looking at parishioners as potential dating subjects (or vice versa). #ChurchToo

I’m not actually sure how to fix this. I wouldn’t want to send someone to a Title IV proceeding every time if a clergy person and someone they met in an appropriate pastoral context ended up dating. But I also wouldn’t want to inscribe in our canons a provision that makes it routine for relationships to begin in the context of pastoral care. Perhaps the bishop needs to make inquiries. Or maybe it should be specified that a sexual relationship cannot begin until after the pastoral relationship has ended for a certain time. Or maybe there need to be limits on what an appropriate pre-dating pastoral relationship would be. Or something.

This resolution lacks nuance that we need if we’re going to establish policy here.

Mostly, I think it is important that we NOT normalize clergy dating parishioners. The dangers here are surely evident.

A125: Amend Canon IV.2 – pertaining to Declining To Advance Proceedings in Title IV. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

From the explanation, “Title IV prohibits the Church Attorney from terminating a proceeding by declining to advance the proceeding. These amendments provide a formal process for terminating a proceeding by seeking leave to decline to advance the proceeding.”

So, basically, the church attorney can decide not to proceed with a matter. If, along the course of a proceeding, it becomes clear that it doesn’t make sense to continue, we should have an exit. If that decision is made, a motion is heard by the hearing panel. I’m assuming that if the hearing panel agrees, and orders dismissal of the case, that the dismissal may be appealed. As long as due process is protected for the complainant, this all makes good sense.

A126: Recommend Repeal of Canon IV.19.31. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This canon currently says that if a cleric becomes the victim of rumors, the cleric can request an investigation (presumably to clear the record). The committee believes, and I tend to agree, that within the pastoral relationship between bishop and cleric, there are other avenues for proceeding with an investigation or of handling a matter.

One note, in their report, the committee writes, “Concerns have been expressed that the appropriate initial steps to address rumors concerning a priest exist in the pastoral relationship between priest and bishop…” It may seem like a small point, but I don’t think we can point out often enough that clergy discipline proceedings apply to bishops, priests, and deacons, not just priests.

A127: Amend Canon IV.17.3 pertaining to membership on the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

From the explanation, “This legislation increases the number of lay and clergy members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. It also clarifies when terms of office begin and end, provides for members to continue in office while certain matters remain pending, and clarifies how vacancies are filled.” Sounds right to me.

A128: Amend Canon IV.2 pertaining to the Composition of a Conference Panel. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This sets the minimum size of a conference panel at two people and requires both clergy and lay members. Makes sense.

A129: Amend Canon IV.19.30(a)(1) pertaining to Retention of Records. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

At the moment, our discipline proceedings are segmented in many places so that one track applies to bishops and another for priests and deacons. This resolution fixes an omission, the retention of records required currently for deacon and priest proceedings, but not for courts of review for bishops.

A130: Amend Canon III.12.7 – Correcting for Uniformity regarding Release and Removal. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Fixing mistakes: “There is a misplaced comma in Sec. 7(a) which needs to be deleted as it is redundant. In Sec. 7(c) the order of “removal and release” has been adjusted to “release and removal: to reflect the wording in the rest of the Canons.”

A131: Amend Canon IV.14.5 pertaining to additional clarity about Accords. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This corrects an error in the canon about accords in the discipline process. The canon incorrectly suggested that accords could be an outcome of a hearing panel, which isn’t right. So this is corrected. Also, it is clarified that an accord may, or may not, include a sentence. (Sentence here is a term of art.) Anyway, the corrections make good sense.

A132: Amend Canon IV.14 pertaining to Notice of Accords. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This is about the 25th resolution here, so I’m going to just quote the explanation. “In addition to minor revisions to improve the clarity of the canon, these revisions address certain flaws in the current structure for notices to be provided under the canon. Specifically, the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies are responsible for hundreds of appointments of Bishops, Priests and lay persons to bodies of General Convention and affiliated organizations. They are each responsible, solely or jointly, for appointing Bishops, Priests, Deacons and lay persons to various bodies. The Secretary of the General Convention is responsible for many of the bodies of General Convention. Therefore, the Presiding Officers need to know the extent of any and all discipline, restrictions, and similar actions that has been taken under Title IV so that they can consider such information when making appointments.” I think this sounds right.

A133: Amending Canon IV.6 to Address Timing of Reference Panel Meetings. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This imposes timelines and standards for regular updates for clergy discipline matters. It’s important for both complainants and respondents that they receive regular updates and that things move along.

A134: Amend Canon IV.12.3 pertaining to the Conference Panel process. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

More laziness efficiency on my part. Here is the explanation: “This clarifies that the Complainant’s counsel should be included in the Conference Panel process, as well as elucidates best practices for how the Conference Panel should decide the date and location of the proceedings.” Yes.

A135: Title IV Across the Diversity of Civil Jurisdictions in The Episcopal Church, Examine Cultural Homogeneity of the Canons. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This resolution asks the commission “to examine the cultural homogeneity of the Canons, especially concerning the propriety and applicability of the Title IV in non-domestic jurisdictions where Canon Law is not consistent with Civil and Criminal Law, and make recommendations to a future meeting of the General Convention concerning the same.” There’s no budget request here, and they’ll need lots of money to do this. This will require attorneys with expertise in international law, and it will require some travel, and plenty of other requirements which will add up. And, yet, we need to do this. We’ve set up a very US-centric clergy discipline process, and we need to sort out what it should look like in other countries.

A136: Establish a Standing Commission on Formation and Ministry Development. Full text. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.

This creates a third standing commission, a Standing Commission on Formation and Ministry Development. I’m tempted to vote no, because I don’t think we’re going to solve much with more committees. But I also think we do need to look at the issues set forth for attention by this new standing commission:

  • Recommend policies and strategies to the General Convention for the affirmation, development, and exercise of ministry by all baptized persons (lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons).
  • Support Diocesan Commissions on Ministry in their support of the ministry of all the baptized, Title III Canons 1 & 2
  • Develop and recommend to the General Convention comprehensive and coordinated policies for people across all ages and stages of life for lifelong formation as Christians and citizens.
  • Recommend strategies to General Convention for the development and support of networks of individuals, diocesan committees and commissions, agencies and institutions engaged in recruitment, gifts of discernment, education and training for ministry, leadership development, hiring, and deployment.
  • Study the needs and trends of vocational opportunities for ordained leaders within and outside the Church and the appropriate formation required to live into those opportunities.
  • Recommend policies and strategies to the General Convention to ensure the fair hiring and compensation of lay and ordained employees in all ministry settings, with special attention to parity across those lines which have historically divided us, including but not limited to race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities, or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons.

I would want to see two other requirements added to this committee’s plate. They should be required to consult with formation staff at the Episcopal Church Center, so that we don’t end up with a committee unknowingly working at cross-purposes with people who are focused on many of the same matters. And, likewise, they should be required to consult with other stakeholders, especially FORMA. We do no need a bunch of people reinventing the wheel. But the identified issues are important, and if the new standing commission can make any headway at all, it would be a win.

The sixth identified priority, looking at fair “hiring” and compensation of lay and ordained employees is very important. Our church, as I have noted several times during the Blue’s Clues series, is rife with sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination. We really have little credibility to witness in the world about justice until our own house is more in order.

A137: To Request Budget Allocation for Work of the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution & Canons. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

They’re asking for $125,000 to do work for the next triennium. Given the priorities identified in the report, we know they’ll need money. I do wish they’d break down the expense of that $125,000. Without a sense of what it’s to be used for, it’s hard to know if it’s enough or too much or just right. I’ll go with “just right” and trust that someone will ask for the details.


Up next: I’ll go back through the commission’s report and say a few things about those areas for which they declined to offer resolutions.

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1 Response

  1. Will J Abbott says:

    Regarding A116: if something about the Title IV process and training causes structural or governing issues, this commission can already recommend whatever changes are necessary. If the canons around Title IV are not in line with other canons, this commission can already suggest the appropriate amendments.

    Anything else regarding Title IV is beyond this commission’s purpose. The materials themselves should be produced by people versed in the issues of Title IV, regardless of their particular relationship to the structure of the church.

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