South Carolina Episcopalians Untangles Today's Spin on Events by PECDSC Inc.
The following questions in light blue, and the comments in black are taken from the website of Bishop Lawrence's new religious corporation, PECDSC.
The comments in drak blue are those of SC Episcopalians and represent our best efforts to explain the ever-changing answers to questions PECDSC's team is telling communicants of the Diocese.
At several points even the answers to these questions seem to be at odds with answers to other questions. As you can see, one of those issues is whether or not the PECDSC corporation is in or out of the Episcopal Church.
What actions were taken against Bishop Lawrence?
PECDSC Inc.: On Monday, October 15, 2012, the Bishop was informed of the actions of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops (a feature of the Title IV changes to the national Canons which our Diocese rejected because they are contrary to the TEC Constitution). They had apparently voted a month earlier to “certify” that he had abandoned the Church.
SC Episcopalians: Lawrence and his surrogates continue to rail against the 2009 changes to the Church’s disciplinary canon as if it has anything to do with Lawrence’s current predicament. If these change were such a concern to them, it seems like the Diocese would have taken some opportunity to object to them during the series of General Conventions at which they were considered. There is no record that the South Carolina delegation even voted against them.
This is a red herring. Lawrence’s actions would have met the standards for abandonment under the pre-2009 version of the canon.
What does that mean?
PECDSC Inc.: To this Diocese, as explained below, it has no canonical meaning or legal effect. However, TEC believes his actions amounted to renouncing the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church.
SC Episcopalians: The renegade Diocese of South Carolina (PECDSC Inc.) has decided that it can pick and choose what canons of the Episcopal Church it wants to follow and the ones it wants to ignore. It’s the same nullification theory advanced by John C. Calhoun prior to the Civil War. The relationship of a diocese to the Episcopal Church is very much the same as that of a state to the Federal government.
Less than five years ago Mark Lawrence took a sacred oath of loyalty to the “doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.” If he can no longer abide by the vows, he only needs to submit his renunciation in writing to the Presiding Bishop. For some reason, he has refused to do that.
The TEC canons require the Presiding Bishop promptly to notify the Bishop. It appears that did not happen. She informed him verbally nearly a month after the ostensible date of this certification. Even now we do not know when the certification was signed.
The Disciplinary Board for Bishops does not report on its internal deliberations to the Presiding Bishop nor does she have any input into the decisions it makes. The DBB is currently chaired by Dorsey Henderson, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. There is no evidence that the Presiding Bishop knew about the Board’s certification of abandonment by Bishop Lawrence more than four or five days (including a weekend) prior to informing him. According to Lawrence, he knew she was trying to reach him for several days. He admitted that he imagined the timing of the death of former Diocesan Chancellor was “providential” since it gave him an excuse to delay a conversation with her.
Among the many absurdities of this saga is the fact that Lawrence and his surrogates are complaining that the Presiding Bishop did not inform him of the actions of the DBB “promptly” in a manner prescribed by the amended Disciplinary Canon that he claims he is not subject to. (BTW, there is no timetable required for informing a bishop that he has been found to have abandoned the Church.)
All this after beginning a conversation in the interim about the potential for a negotiated settlement of our differences.
Lawrence and company claim they were in negotiations with the Presiding Bishop over “creative options” for a “peaceful settlement” of the complaints of the Diocese. Lawrence claims that the finding of the DBB that he had abandoned the Church was a “missile” intentionally fired at those negotiations and that has led to “all out war.”
The fact that Lawrence’s ministry was temporarily restricted instead of being deposed is that there is room to come to a mutually agreeable resolution of the three issues on which the DBB said constituted abandonment. There is no reason Lawrence could not have continued with those talks. Even now, the Presiding Bishop is open to continuing them.
Based on information from an individual in the governing structure of the renegade diocese, Lawrence and his allies saw the opportunity to explore these “creative options” as a way to buy time to finish transferring diocesan assets to what they believe is a legally constituted corporation they can control.
There was a strategy on Lawrence's end to propose a number of options which they were confident the Presiding Bishop did not have the authority to accept or implement. They would then use her refusal to agree as evidence that she wanted to get rid of the Diocese and its bishop.
What are those charges?
PECDSC Inc.: The first two are that Bishop Lawrence failed to prevent Diocesan Convention from voting to change our diocesan Constitution and Canons to limit or remove reference to those of TEC and for not preventing a similar resolution that had the same effect upon our corporate charter. The final charge was for participating in the granting of quit claim deeds to parishes.
SC Episcopalians: The first two allegations refer to the concept of accession. The Constitution of any diocese in the Episcopal Church may not contain any provision that hinders “unqualified accession” to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church. In other words, when the two constitutions are in conflict, the Constitution ofthe Episcopal Church prevails.
In 2010 and 2011, Lawrence and his allies pushed through successive Diocesan Conventions amendments to the Diocese’s Constitution that did just that in spite of a warning from the Church’s Executive Council that they would be “null and void” because they hindered “unqualified accession”. It’s the same thing as a state claiming that its laws were superior to the authority of the Constitution of the United States.
With the quitclaim deeds, Lawrence blatantly violated his consecration vows by failing to protect property interests of the Episcopal Church. In signing the deeds, the Bishop was attempting to give away property interests of the Church worth millions of dollars.
These legal documents confirmed what we believe was already established in South Carolina law, that parishes own their property, free of any imposed trust interest by others.
The key words here are “what we believe.” Lawrence has paid nearly $500,000 to lawyers to develop creative interpretations of the 2009 All Saints decision by the state Supreme Court. In that decision the Court was clearly addressing the unique circumstances of one particular parish. Lawrence has decided that the Court meant to apply its thinking to every parish and congregation in a “hierarchical” Church in South Carolina.
All three items were known and the first two explicitly a part of the formal charges of which the Bishop was acquitted last November when the same disciplinary body considered accusations of abandonment.
Bishop Lawrence and his followers continue to promote the idea that in 2011 he was charged with something and acquitted. In 2011 communicants of the Diocese asked the Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops if Lawrence’s actions as a bishop constituted “abandonment” of the Church. There were no formal charges, so there couldn’t be an acquittal. According to documents right there on the website of the renegade Diocese, the DBB said the complaint did not have enough evidence for a certification of “abandonment”.
Did Bishop Lawrence “abandon” the Episcopal Church?
PECDSC Inc.: No, he did not. The disciplinary board may disagree, but one reality is that we already did not recognize their actions, having agreed as a Diocese that the canonical changes creating their processes were contrary to the TEC constitution and so of no effect in the Diocese of South Carolina. Those same national canons are presently under review by resolution of the General Convention for that reason.
SC Episcopalians: Yes, he did too. It is the Disciplinary Board for Bishops that determines what constitutes "abandonment" in the Episcopal Church. The opinion of the PECDSC corporation does not matter.
Further, if there was substance to the charges, why were both the Bishop and our deputation granted seat, voice and vote at General Convention this summer? All our actions were over a year old by then.
The findings of the DBB only relate to Bishop Lawrence, not the Diocese. Even then, the DBB did not come to any conclusions about the complaint against Bishop Lawrence until nearly three months after the General Convention … accoding to information the renegade Diocese include on its website and mentioned above. Even if the certifications had been made against Bishop Lawrence, they would not affect the seating of the Diocese at the General Convention.
If the Bishop can be charged with abandoning the communion of the Church for these actions, so can the Diocese.
Bishop Lawrence is trying gin up support around the Diocese by making it seem that the actions of the DBB against him are somehow aimed at the Diocese as well. The Diocese is not charged with anything. This suggestion is a product of very imaginative thinking by a Bishop and fomer Standing Committee, who are trying to convince parishes to try to leave the Episcopal Church.
It is also worth noting that we have received letters of support and affirmation from across TEC and around the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is clear the larger Church recognizes we have not abandoned its communion.
“Abandoning communion” is a finding by the DBB solely against Bishop Lawrence. There was no one else whose conduct was reviewed by the DBB, hence no “we”. The term means that through his pattern of misconduct Mark Lawrence has separated himself from the communion we share with all Episcopalians. It does not refer to the Anglican Communion.
To belong to the Anglican Communion in the United States, one must belong to the Episcopal Church. There is no separate membership for dioceses or parishes. This is the policy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The idea that individual Primates can decide who is in the Communion and who is out is ridiculous.
The Diocese is claiming that two letters it received from right-wing Primates of Anglican Provinces in Africa and Australia affirm Lawrence’s and the Diocese’s continued membership in the Anglican Communion. The authenticity of the two letters have become somewhat questionable because it appears that they were drafted here in South Carolina by Lawrence’s spin doctors. They are so similar in form and content that SC Episcopalians has contacted some of the Primates who signed them, and no one seems to take credit for drafting them, nor have they even acknowledged that they signed them.
What does it mean that we are “disassociated” from The Episcopal Church?
PECDSC Inc.: It means that we have now completely withdrawn our accession to the Constitution and Canons of TEC. The Diocese of South Carolina continues as it has since its founding as those parishes in union with one another and legally organized and incorporated as The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. That identity has not changed.
Diocese and parishes have no legal standing outside the Episcopal Church, as they are legally constituted as part of the Church. They cannot leave the Church, much less lay claim to its assets. Lawrence and his supporters are using “disassociation” to describe their recent actions, because if they actually did say they were leaving the Episcopal Church they would be immediately deposed and have no claim on the millions of dollars in Diocesan assets they are hoping to spirit away with them.
How was that accomplished?
PECDSC Inc.: It was resolved on October 2, 2012 by the board of directors of the Diocese that at such time as the Bishop of the Diocese was attacked in any fashion by TEC, we would disassociate, effective immediately. That conditional resolution was passed precisely because there was concern for the risks of entering negotiations with the office of the Presiding Bishop. Unfortunately, those concerns proved well founded.
These resolutions were created and voted on in secret. They are conditional meaning that they involve another party who was not advised of their existence. In fact, no one in the Diocese beyond Standing Committee appears to have been consulted, nor was the matter voted on by delegates to a Diocesan Convention. Obviously, these resolutions are completely illegal in the eyes of the Episcopal Church and state and Federal courts.
The bishop was hardly “attacked” by anyone. He has repeatedly attempted to provoke the Episcopal Church into deposing him by taking actions that violated his consecration vows. The temporary “restriction” on his ministry was the result of significant, ongoing misconduct by Bishop Lawrence. If he had any interest in continuing as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, he would have taken the initiative to engage the Presiding Bishop about the restriction can be lifted. He hasn’t.
The irony of Bishop Lawrence’s reaction to the whole disciplinary process is that he has never denied that he did the things he is alleged to have done.
The double irony is that Lawrence and the Standing Committee admit that they have been potting for months to “abandon communion” with the Episcopal Church … exactly the charge by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.
Are there additional conditional resolutions?
PECDSC Inc.: Only one, which also took effect immediately. When charges were being considered last fall against Bp. Lawrence, the Standing Committee passed a similar resolution that called a special convention to be held for the first Saturday more than 30 days from any action taken against the Bishop (the minimum notice required by our diocesan canons).
SC Episcopalians: Actually, no one knows how many resolutions and other actions have been taken by the Standing Committee under Lawrence since records of its meetings are not public. It is hard to imagine that in five years the Committee hasn’t done something that it does not want us to know. Even when the exact wording of the secret resolution was made public, it was just one page of what appeared to be a document of significant length.
Doesn’t a Diocesan Convention have to vote on whether or not to leave the Episcopal Church?
PECDSC Inc.: Our diocesan canons give the Bishop authority as the final arbiter of the meaning and application of our constitution and canons. The Standing Committee formally requested an interpretation of those canons and who had the authority to take such an action. The formal reply of the Bishop made it clear the Standing Committee has such authority to act on behalf of the Diocese
SC Episcopalians: A “diocese” is constituted by a “hierarchical” Church, of which the Episcopal Church is one. It is not legally recognized as an entity outside of the Church and cannot vote itself out of existence.
In other words, the only Diocese of South Carolina is the one that recognized by the Episcopal Church. That continuing Diocese will hold its 2013 Annual Convention on March 8th, at which time it will elect a provisional bishop to succeed Mark Lawrence. It will also elect an all-new Standing Committee and Diocesan Officers to replace those who have left the Church with Bishop Lawrence.
Bishop Lawrence operates under his own imaginary authority, which he believes gives him absolute control over everything the Diocese does, including some mystical power to interpret the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese in any way that suits his purposes. He is accountable to no one. Recent changes to the Diocesan Constitution appearing to cede him such powers are inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the governing documents of the Episcopal Church, and any other democratic body.
However, Bishop Lawrence does not have the power to lay claim to the parishes, property, or other assets of the Diocese. They belong to the Episcopal Church, and any attempt to transfer them to the Bishop’s renegade diocese/corporate would very likely constitute fraud, a very serious criminal act.
What is the purpose of the Special Called Convention on November 17, 2012?
PECDSC Inc.: Though we are already outside of TEC, our Constitution and Canons both contain multiple references to those of TEC. Ours must now be amended to bring them into agreement with the present legal reality. Those changes can only be made by a Diocesan Convention.
What does it mean that Bishop Lawrence is “restricted?” Can he not celebrate the Eucharist? Confirm? Ordain?
PECDSC Inc.: Because we have left TEC, it now means nothing. Had we tried to remain within TEC, it would have required him to cease all these activities and more. He would have been allowed 60 days to either retract or defend his actions. The charges would then have been brought to the House of Bishops at their next meeting (March 2013) where they would vote on whether to depose him. This illustrates well that a canon meant to deal with a Bishop who has truly “left” the Church is being used to purge one who is still in office, without any semblance of due process. It is a gross misuse of the Canons.
Consequently, Bishop Lawrence will continue in all his functions as Diocesan Bishop. He will confer with the leadership of the parishes he is scheduled to visit, and where there are pastoral considerations, his visit may be postponed as seems best. Otherwise, his ministry will continue unabated.
SC Episcopalians: In this answer the PECDSC Inc. says it is no longer in the Episcopal Church, which is different from what Bishop Lawrence has been saying this week. Bishop Lawrence says he is still a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Three weeks ago he told a conference of clergy that neither, they, or their parishes were in the Episcopal Church.
What other “creative options” or “peaceful alternatives” were considered? Are they still on the table?
PECDSC Inc.: Other denominations have demonstrated a capacity to find charitable solutions to such conflicts which do not require litigation.
SC Episcopalians: Mark Lawrence's actions in issuing quitclaim deeds has insured that every parish that filed them will face litigation. Those parishes that blindly fo9llowed his advice to change their corporate charters will face litigation as well. Bishop Lawrence knows full well what happened in the other dioceses with breakaway leaders when hard-headed parishes that thought they could make off with Church property. The quit claim deeds were not uniform in the way they were drawn up, insuring that the Episcopal Church will have to deal with each rebel parish in court one at a time.
The General Convention of TEC has waxed eloquent in its resolutions admonishing such conversations between the Israelis and their Middle East neighbors. To date, there has been no evidence of such a willingness to negotiate with four previously departing Dioceses.
Negotiations have been extensive attempts at negotiations in places where leaders tried and failed to take the diocese or parishes with them out of the Church. However, most of these matters have ended up in extensive and expensive legal wranglings. Those that have been decided have overwhelmingly favored the Episcopal Church. A good example would be the situation at Christ Church, Savannah, whe congregation tried and failed to tak ethe parish out of the Church and realign with the Province of Uganda.
The fashion in which Bp. Lawrence was attacked when such negotiations had begun suggests that attitude has not changed. The second meeting, which had been scheduled for this purpose, will now not occur. It was scheduled for October 22, 2012 and was too soon after the October 15th actions taken against Bishop Lawrence to attempt such a conversation. The issue of a resolution is now in TEC’s hands. If they desire such, they can reach out and we will meet with them.
Bishop Lawrence was not attacked. This is so silly that it is hard to imagine that anyone can take these people seriously. Bishop Lawrence very intentionally and aggressively engaged in misconduct he knew was a violation of his consecration vows as a way of provoking the leadership of the Episcopal Church to act against him.
Bishop Lawrence has sixty days from the date of his restriction to address the issues raised in the certification of abandonment. The Presiding Bishop have been very gracious in her dealing with Lawrence and willing to work with him if he really wants to remain a bishop in the Episcopal Church.
How will these actions affect the day-to-day workings of our churches?
PECDSC Inc.: This Diocese will continue to function and minister largely as it always has. The primary work of the Gospel proclamation will remain the same. Our worship and ministry will be no different. How we relate to one another within the Diocese, in accord with our own Constitution and Canons will be no different.
Practically speaking, our Diocese has its own Health Insurance program. That will remain unchanged. Many of our parishes have their own property insurance plans outside of the Church Insurance Corporation. These too will remain unchanged.
Those parishes who have their insurance through the Church Pension Group will need to begin exploring alternatives.
Clergy will be provided a workshop at the Clergy Conference on Nov. 7-9 to inform them of their options regarding the Church Pension Fund. Plans are being made to inform lay employees as well.
SC Episcopalians: This is an exceptionally deceptive response that demonstrates how poorly prepared and informed the parishes of the Diocese are about the challenges they will face should they attempt to leave the Episcopal Church.
The statement suggests that nothing will change with respect to health insurance, property insurance, and pensions… nothing but the cost, the extent of coverage, and benefits.
In the case of the other dioceses where there their leaders tried to take them out of the Church, expensive lawsuits against any parishes that tried to follow them. Parishes choosing need to be aware that these lawsuits were (a) very expensive to defend, and (b) mostly proved to be successful against those who insisted that they could just seize Church property and do whatever they wanted with it.
At least as off last week, Bishop Lawrence has begun admitting to congregations that they are not likely to keep their parish property if they follow him. This was clearly the case in the other four diocese with rebellious leaders, and a refreshing bit of candor on the Bishop's part. Unfortunately, the PECDSC corporate website does not share in this zeal for candor.
Where are we going?
There are no plans to go anywhere. Going somewhere has never been the focus of the work of the Bishop or Standing Committee. Their objective has always been to plan ways to protect the Diocese while remaining within TEC. That option is no longer open to us. For the foreseeable future, we will remain who we have been since our founding in 1785. We are the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. Our relationships across the Anglican Communion are numerous and strong. The formal character of those relationships and how they may be expressed will be a decision arrived at only after much prayer and conversation as an entire Diocese.
The leadership of South Carolina has been intent on leaving the Episcopal Church, since Lawrence was first nominated for bishop in 2007. Anyone at the Diocesan Convention that year and heard all the candidates realized that the nominating committee only chose men who were publicly committed to trying to leave the Diocese out of the Church. Any nominees who would not make that commitment were rejected.
In 2011, when the Disciplinary Committee for Bishops failed to certify that Lawrence has abandoned communion, Lawrence’s supporters repeatedly asked each other at a meeting of the clergy what he had to do to get kicked out of the Church. That is when the strategy turned to the quitclaim deeds. Several years ago, Lawrence stated that in his conversations with the Presiding Bishop she had always insisted that she had no authority to give away parish property or the Church’s interest in those properties. It was clear he understood this was the line she would not cross and would like provoke her to act against him.
SC Episcopalians is currently attempting to discover who actually wrote the letters the Diocese claims were written by its right-wing allies in the Anglican Communion. It has submitted inquiries to those who signed them, but to date none has been willing to explain how his name got on the letters or who composed them. They are remarkably similar suggesting that they were written buy the same person.
Are further meetings with the P.B. planned?
PECDSC Inc.: Not at this time.
Does violation of the ‘restriction’ mean a ruling of voluntary renunciation is imminent?
PECDSC Inc.: This would certainly be consistent with prior practice by the office of the Presiding Bishop. The canons currently require that such determination be based upon the intent to renounce being expressed in writing. To date, the Bishop has given no such written expression.
This is correct. Technically, Lawrence is a bishop in the Episcopal Church under restriction. He says he is no longer in the Episcopal Church, but has not taken steps necessary to leave. He seems strangely attached to the idea of being kicked out, instead of leaving on his own. The House of Bishops meets in March. If Lawrence is still trying to get himself kicked out by then, he’ll probably get his wish.
If we are out of TEC, what does it mean when we gather as a Convention?
PECDSC Inc.: As with every other Diocesan Convention, since the first three conventions of the Diocese when there was no Episcopal Church, we gather as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. We will continue to do the work of ministry which God has put before us, in covenanted fellowship with one another. Our gathering in Convention has never been predicated upon being part of TEC, as we operate under our own constitution and canons. These things remain unchanged.
Lawrence and his followers are trying to create pressure on parishes and clergy to decide if they want to try to leave the Episcopal Church with him. He needs their financial support. However, there is no reason why a parish has to put itself through this right now.
The next Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is scheduled for March 8th, at which time Lawrence’s successor will be elected along with a new standing committee. Any clergyman or parish not in attendance will be considered to be in rebellion against the Episcopal Church, and legal action will likely follow.
The meeting called by Lawrence for November 17th is completely unauthorized. Under the terms of Lawrence’s restriction, he has no power to convene any official meetings. Most parishes that belong to the Continuing Diocese are not sending delegates. In fact, Lawrence himself has said it would be pointless for them to do.
What does this mean for our participation in the Church Pension Fund?
Diocesan staff has been told by a representative of CPF that clergy may continue making contributions to their credit in the fund until such time as they are actually deposed. All clergy who have made contributions for 5 years or longer are fully vested and cannot lose their benefits. A portion of the planned clergy conference November 7-9 will be a workshop to explore the implications more deeply and provide specific, individualized information on the impact on every clergy household.
This is largely correct. However, the Diocese is not telling clergy that any of them who have stated publicly that they have left the Episcopal Church are considered gone as of that moment. Every clergyman on the former Standing Committee is no longer recognized by the Episcopal Church as Episcopal priests because of their secret vote for the resolution of abandonment at the October 2nd meeting.
Lawrence and his loyalists are setting up some new retirement program for the clergy that follow them out of the Episcopal Church. However, the Church Pension Fund is one of the most generous pension funds in the country, and nothing being offered by the renegade diocese is reported to be comparable.
If we have left TEC, why do we still use the word “Episcopal” in our names and in our documents?
The term exists in the legal incorporated names of our Diocese and many of our parishes. Its application is far broader than and not exclusively franchised by TEC. It is rightly used to designate any church which has bishops, for that is what the term refers to in the Greek and Latin from which the English word is derived. The episcopos is the bishop. An episcopal church is simply one that has bishops. We continue, both as a diocese and as parishes to be that kind of church. This is both our legal and ecclesiastical heritage and we embrace it as such. There are other churches with “Episcopal” in the name, including the Reformed Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. For many years what is now called the United Methodist Church was known as the Methodist Episcopal Church and was by far the largest church in this country with “Episcopal” in its name. Other dioceses in the Anglican Communion, not part of TEC have the word “Episcopal” in their names: The Scottish Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church of Sudan, The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, The Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba and The Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain (Extra provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
If Lawrence and his supporters did not use the word “Episcopal” in their corporate name, they would weaken their legal claim.