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.
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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! 🙂