Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Church Law" Part II - If we say abusers were the target, too bad if those dissenters are collateral damage

As I said in Pt. I, Church disciplinary canons are necessary to protect God's people. We know all too well that clergy can perpetrate sexual abuse, embezzlement and other forms of misconduct against the faithful.

But what we have in the Title IV revisions is a much broader agenda for discipline. The revisers wanted to empower one order of clergy, the Bishops, to haul lay people into disciplinary hearings. This portion of the proposal caused a big outcry prior to the 2006 General Convention (GC), and it was tabled. Continued protest against the idea led to its removal from what will be presented this summer, but the revisers are clear that they want it in eventually. Page 769 of the Blue Book admits that the only reason the "lay discipline" language was removed is that the "time is not yet propitious" for its adoption.

Why is lay discipline so important? Is the media full of stories of lay people perpetrating sexual abuse and financial misconduct in The Episcopal Church? Of course not. Not that those things don't happen, but the greater reality is that lay people can protest and organize in ways that clergy can't.

Lay people can be the strongest dissenters in the structures of The Episcopal Church (TEC). They have tremendous power over money, both as voluntary donors and as voting members of parish, diocesan and national budget bodies. They don't have to worry, as do clergy, about a Bishop's control over their access to employment.

So, "lay discipline" is pretty much a means for Bishops to harass, discourage and pick off lay "ring leaders" when it comes to dissent. A church that was once (and still claims to be) "democratic" and collegial in leadership wants to be more top-down and arbitrary.

Disciplinary canons are justified to protect lay people from false shepherds. The effort to enable action against lay people, although off the table for the moment, shows that the real agenda is to get rid of lay dissenters and thereby buffer Bishops and bureaucrats from accountability for their actions.

But there are dissenting clergy as well, and the canons are trained on them...


The Archer of the Forest said...

"They may not claim in proceedings under this Title constitutional guarantees otherwise associated with secular court proceedings."
-Line 1037-1038, pg. 790

So they can't claim civil rights or due process or other things generally associated with Judicial proceedings in US Courts? I think this needs to be amended to state exactly what this means.

The Archer of the Forest said...

I am also a bit concerned about:

"Sec. 3 No secular court shall have authority to review, annul, reverse, restrain or otherwise delay any proceeding under this Title. No action shall be brought in any secular court to enforce the terms or provisions of any Accord or Order unless otherwise expressly provided therein."
-Proposed Canon 19, Section 3, lines 143-145

That sounds to me to be suspiciously "We're above the law by Divine Right" kind of language.

TLF+ said...

Archer - do make your thoughts known to our GenCon Deputies. The outcry over the "lay discipline" stuff got the revisions tabled in 06 and they are not in the current version.

These revisions could open a real box of unintended consequences. And, as these are likely to hurt people professionally and financially, there is no way that we won't see Bishops, Dioceses and maybe even 815 dragged into secular courts for redress. I don't think that IV.19 can possibly prevent lawsuits for real damages.

Scott Loftesness said...

I'd love Creighton Robertson to pull me into some hearing. I'd embrace it so long as the hearing were totally public. I'd eviscerate him.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a lady, a former treasurer of ECUSA (as it was known then) who stole some $2 million. And she was tried, convicted, and sentenced in civil court, and went to jail. Too bad the bishops didn't have more power than just binding and loosing then. Why they could have sent her to Northern North Dakota!
Rdr. James (formerly one of you but not now...)