The TAC Bishops and Outside Scrutiny

The Roman Catholic lawyer Mourad has just sent another comment to Fr Smuts blog in response to Fr Robert, the “Irish Anglican”.

I have esteemed this lawyer’s input for some time. It deserves our attention. It shows a distinction that many overlook between legal procedure and mob rule. In the USA, until about the beginning of the twentieth century, a village community could get away with lynching a person who committed a heinous crime. They would just take the man out and hang him from a tree. That might seem to be justice for a man who has raped and killed a child, for example.

Even the legitimate law and its application are not infallible, from the police, the public prosecutor, the defence lawyer to the judge and jury, and so forth. Innocent men have been condemned and executed by miscarriages of justice, but law is more likely to weigh evidence and look at both sides of the affair to render a fair judgement than a crowd hanging a man in anger. That is the point of law. You are more likely to get justice with the application of law than by mob rule. In order for that to happen, there are strict rules to follow to ensure fairness and impartiality.

One way to ensure that we believe that there has been such fairness and impartiality is to publish the entire proceedings as recorded or stenographed.

This is the point of my own criticism of the tribunal set up by the bishops of the regrouped TAC to judge Archbishop Hepworth. It may be argued that the former Primate is guilty of having engaged actions that destroyed the TAC and offered an alternative between entering (or reconciling with) the Roman Catholic Church or going bust in ecclesial terms (paraphrasing what they might actually have said). It may appear that some of us (myself included) were expendable, and I would have cause to be as bitter and vengeful as others.

The point is that this was not a lynching, and nor was it a legal procedure that can be recognised by any other than the closed circle of the TAC bishops. Perhaps, they conducted an inquisitorial trial and dispensed with the rules of evidence and public accountability. One element is missing – they are not the Roman Catholic Church with standing in the world, but rather are being seen increasingly as an independent sacramental church among hundreds of others, competing for credibility and being discredited when someone does something wrong elsewhere. It’s tough! Existence is precarious for us all.

Fr Smuts took note of my posting Bishop Botterill on the TAC Tribunal of yesterday in Still More on Archbishop John Hepworth. He contented himself by saying that the official line was that Archbishop Hepworth was “guilty as charged” under section 10 of the Concordat. Fr Smuts has been prattling on about the former Primate being caught with his fingers in the till – but section 10 of the Concordat and Bishop Botterill’s letter (published with his permission) don’t talk about money. Yet it still isn’t good enough. We don’t have the exact text of the charges as put before the three judges or documentation about the deliberations, the weighing of evidence and a reasoned conclusion.

Perhaps it was intended to be secret and they were wearing Klu Klux Klan hoods or Monty Python flying goggles and red robes as they burst into a room crying “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”! We live in a critical and cynical world, and insofar as our churches are public and have a public reputation to maintain, we are accountable to our members and clients. If we engage legal procedures, they cannot be both secret and credible. A choice has to be made.

Those bishops appointed a tribunal which was presided over by a bishop who is also a Queen’s Counsel in Canada, therefore a lawyer. This tribunal’s acts will be scrutinised by the outside world, at least by the few who care about the TAC and marginal churches of Anglican tradition. They presumed to judge their former Primate, the one they elected for that responsibility, so this was a weighty and important matter. So we on the outside are scrutinising this action, and find that it is not adequate or complete to command our credence.

I am not defending my former Archbishop or saying that he was entirely blameless for what happened. Perhaps I would be more understanding had the bishops decided to get on a plane to Australia and hang the Archbishop from a tree! I am brought to think of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

I can only repeat that as far as I concerned, if the former Primate is guilty of acting in a way that destroyed the TAC and caused Christians to lose their faith or membership of a Christian community, that guilt is shared by the very men who elected him and allowed him to remain in situ for so long.

The image that comes into my mind is one of a person humping heavy baggage in an airport or living with a ball and chain shackled to his leg like in the old penal colonies. The self-justifier has to live with the curse of the past and shared responsibility. I have discussed this before. In 1945, every man, woman and child in Germany had to live with the guilt of Hitler and the Nazis for the war and the Holocaust. Only in time did the world forgive the German nation as it embraced democracy and repented of its past. People can be in “communion of sin” as in prayer and holiness. I am convinced that all the TAC bishops, except for those who have been received into the Roman Catholic Church share the guilt of not taking responsibility from November 2009, as soon as the Apostolic Constitution appeared.

Where is the repentance of the TAC bishops?

Now, until those bishops can come up with a reason for us to believe in their total innocence and the complete guilt of their scapegoat, I will not be satisfied with anything less than procedural rigour and transparency in this purported application of law.

* * *

Update: Fr Smuts has just had kittens! About 70 years ago, other people in authority in some countries were telling their subjects not to question their orders. Yet, an international legal authority ruled that they still had moral responsibility.

In It’s a Sad Day…, Fr Smuts accuses me of dividing the Church and being a bad Christian witness. Now I have already heard about secrecy, unaccountability and putting appearances of Church unity over justice.

Now until this thing becomes transparent, I assume it to be unjust, and I protest. I don’t doubt others are doing so too. If Archbishop Hepworth is a bad man, so are those who elected him and kept him in place for so long. They are stuck with the stigma, at least as far as I’m concerned. There is blame all round.

All the bishops have to do is publish the text of the canonical charges and their reasoned conclusions in the terms of the laws infringed.

It’s time there was an Ordinariate in South Africa! 🙂

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4 Responses to The TAC Bishops and Outside Scrutiny

  1. Pingback: It’s a Sad Day… « Fr Stephen Smuts

  2. ed pacht says:

    Just a couple of things to throw into the mix (by a layman who is not a lawyer) from the standpoint of what I have believed to be the case. I think the fault in this situation may be found in the deficient organization of TAC itself. It is true that +Hepworth was elected as Primate. However, it is also true that he was the one and only plausible candidate. The Concordat required that the Primate of TAC be the primate of one of the national churches. ++Falk resigned as TAC Primate, but was still Primate of ACA (US), so that there was no possible US candidate. +Mercer in Canada had already declared his intent to retire from active ministry. The Asian and African Primates did not feel they had financial resources to take on the office. Thus +Hepworth was elected out of a field of one. Many were even initially unhappy with the choice but felt it necessary to accept it. At least this is the way it was all explained to me.

    All the national churches had consistent and rational canons by which to operate. It does not appear that TAC as such actually did, but only a rather vague and elastic set of rules. The international Communion was not intended to have much more real power than the ABC does within the old Anglican Communion, or at least many believed that to be the case. ++Falk seems to have exercised his role with great restraint, as he himself as one of the designers expected should be the case. ++Hepworth, upon election, seems to have seen the office quite differently, assuming powers few expected he should have. If I am correct, there is no provision for a “Patrimony of the Archbishop” in the concordat itself, and he seems to have simply declared such to exist. In Europe, where none of the national churches had jurisdiction, it may have made sense for him to take an unattached priest such as you, Fr. Chadwick, under his wing, but there was no provision for that. Perhaps it would have been better to make you provisionally a priest and mission of the Australian church so as to be within a canonically regular situation.

    One can justify such an arrangement as he made, but not the extension of his power and “patrimony” into places where a national church existed. There were at least two instances of his doing just that within the territory of the Anglican Church in America and subverting the canonical authority of the ACA. On the West Coast he recognized a resigned bishop who was under some considerable disfavor and a dissident parish not recognized by ACA as under his patrimony, and thus immune to the diocese in which it existed, directly in opposition to how TAC had been expected to operate. Later he set up a competing jurisdiction under his patrimony for a bishop, parishes and clergy who had left ACA intending to join the ordinariate, thus in distinct and intentional opposition to the national jurisidiction with which he was supposed to be united. All of this, no matter how well-intended (I won’t argue that one way or the other, but prefer to err in a charitable direction), was intensely disruptive and divisive in its effects.

    What I can see seems to make it clear that ++Hepworth did separate himself from any such entity as TAC, and that he made it clear with his ultimate resignation. I’m not at all sure that it was wise for the College of Bishops to proceed in the form of a trial. Your observation that it was, at best, a rather deficient trial seems to be a pretty accurate observation. However, the decisions resulting from this action do appear to be just what is needed for clarity here. He did resign. I don’t see the necessity of assigning blame to him or anyone else. In effect what the College did (and what I wish they had said they had done) was to define what the results were of that resignation. For the Archbishop, well, it would probably be out of character for such a proactive man, but the only reasonable course for him at this time would be to accept the position he has got himself into and retire, at least for now, in the interest of the peace of the church. It would seem to me that any exercise of his episcopate from this point would be, whether he were seeing it as such or not, no different from the foundation of yet another separate jurisdiction.

    I wish ++Hepworth well, but I don’t believe there is any longer a role for him as a bishop. I truly wish he himself would be able to see that.

    Meanwhile, after such a confused and complicated mess as this Ordinariate situation has engendered, I think the time for blames and criticisms is well past, and it is high time to start rebuilding on the basis of what now is.

    • I sympathise with what you have to say, and I believe it is highly probable that +Hepworth will never again exercise the episcopate and probably not the priesthood either.

      I also have a feeling that this campaign of scapegoating and what appears to be a kangaroo court should be like in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. In the lack of repentance and reform of a corrupt situation, the entire abbey burns down as the monks go their separate ways, and perhaps one day, something purified and good may come out of the ashes.

      I also think of the demise of the Temple of Jerusalem according to Christ’s prophecy, Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down (Mark xiii.2).

      Another reflection is that Continuing Anglican churches take themselves too seriously and have tried to put over a message of legitimacy and being the Anglican Church to replace ECUSA, the Church of England, etc. I see them more in terms of “lifeboats”, ministering according to the principle that the highest law is the salvation of souls. I think such a line would have been more credible and open to a more humble attitude. I believe this to be the root cause of Continuing Anglican fragmentation ever since the 1970’s.

  3. ed pacht says:

    I think you have a point. Perhaps ultimately the “official” Anglican bodies will have crashed and burned. They certainly appear to be trying to do that to themselves. This hasn’t happened yet, although they have become institutions in which Catholic Christians can no longer survive. I like the lifeboat image very much. Until things finally clarify (when that will be, I can’t imagine), all we can do is to provide a place to continue what others are destroying, as best we can. That last phrase is operative. We are NOT capable of solving the problems or making anything come out the way it ideally should, but we can humbly do the best we can. Humbly is the word.

    I don’t know much about the rest of the world, but I do know something about the ACA, and particularly about the Diocese of the Northeast of which I am an active part. I do not see an attitude of vindictiveness, and not a whole lot of blame-setting, but rather a determination to to the best we can to put things back in order and to go on. I fully believe that Bishop Marsh does not see the recent proceedings as an effort to “get back at” +Hepworth, but rather as a way to reclaim the structures that are bruised and battered after these incidents. Perhaps the ‘trial’ was the wrong way to go about it, but for the lifeboat to survive at all, the confusion of authority needed to be resolved, and quickly. I could wish it had been done another way, but this, now, is what we have to build on. We can only do the best we can, and, if we do, I think we have returned to something that can work.

    One way in which I perceive the ACA to be different from some of the other jurisdictions is that it seems to have, at its inception, left behind the attitude of exclusiveness and permanence that Continuing Anglicans tend to hold, and considered itself from the beginning as provisional and temporary, consciously seeking to become part of a larger unity. TAC itself was initially founded as a vehicle for independent churches to come together as equals on the way to unity. That’s the very vision many or most of us had with regard to the approach to Rome. It was unrealistic, but the expression of a real ideal. The actions failed, but I think the ideal continues. Unity without absorption continues to be the goal. Someday, God willing (and I think He is).

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