Jefferts Schori Removes Pittsburgh Bishop from Office
- Jefferts Schori removes Pittsburgh bishop from office
Duncan led effort to take diocese out of Episcopal Church
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
September 22, 2008 [Episcopal News Service] Robert Duncan has been
given a formal sentence of deposition from the ordained ministry of
the Episcopal Church and has been removed as the bishop of the Diocese
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori signed Duncan's sentence on
September 19, the day after the House of Bishops agreed by a vote of
88-35 to authorize the action. Bishop Richard S.O. Chang, vice
president of the house, and Bishop Kenneth Price, the secretary, also
signed as witnesses to the sentence.
The sentence and an accompanying letter from Jefferts Schori to Duncan
were sent to Pittsburgh diocesan offices on September 22 and later
released to the public.
The Rev. Dr. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop, told
ENS that the Presiding Bishop signed the deposition before leaving for
meetings with the Church of Sweden directly from the House of Bishops,
"but she chose not to release it out of consideration for Duncan until
he had been notified, which was done via his office [September 22]."
In the sentence Jefferts Schori declares that "from and after 12:01
a.m., Saturday, 20 September, 2008, Bishop Duncan shall be deprived of
the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God's word
and sacraments conferred at ordination in this Church and further
declare[s] that all ecclesiastical and related secular offices held by
Bishop Duncan shall be terminated and vacated at that time."
Robertson said that diocesan staff were contacted September 22 and
told that the sentence of deposition was on its way to their offices.
Robertson said he did not know if Duncan was aware of the effective
date of the deposition before he received the sentence.
The diocesan Standing Committee, now the ecclesiastical authority in
the diocese, will meet September 23 in a regularly scheduled
gathering, the Rev. David Wilson, committee president, told ENS.
Wilson said that Standing Committee members would discuss the details
of the diocesan convention, scheduled for October 4, at which the
deputies will be asked to approve resolutions (see resolutions one,
two and three here) re-aligning the diocese with the Anglican Province
of the Southern Cone of southern South America.
A September 18 news release posted on the diocese's website said that
"Bishop Duncan's own continuing status as a bishop in The Anglican
Communion has been secured by the Province of the Southern Cone" and
quoted Southern Cone Primate Gregory Venables as saying that
"effectively immediately" Duncan was a member of that House of Bishops.
"Neither the Presiding Bishop nor the House of Bishops of the
Episcopal Church has any further jurisdiction over his ministry,"
In a September 18 statement issued after the House of Bishops vote,
the Pittsburgh Standing Committee said that Duncan would "continue to
support the work of our diocese under the terms of his administrative
employment agreement and within the bounds of his deposition,
providing many of the services that he previously performed for the
Meanwhile, a group called "Across the Aisle" issued a statement
September 22 saying that Jefferts Schori's office had informed the
group of the sentence of deposition via a phone call that afternoon.
"The direct communication is further evidence of the Presiding
Bishop's recognition that Across the Aisle is the primary group
working to maintain a diocese in Pittsburgh that is part of the
Episcopal Church, even if the existing diocese votes at its upcoming
convention to realign with an Anglican province in South America," the
statement said in part.
The Presiding Bishop had singled out the group during her September 19
remarks to reporters after the end of the House of Bishops meeting,
calling it "a remarkable example of cooperation across a variety of
differences of opinion."
Jefferts Schori said during the news conference that the Episcopal
Church would support efforts to reorganize the diocese should
delegates vote for re-alignment.
"The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will not go away, even if their
convention makes a canonically inappropriate vote to secede" from The
Episcopal Church (TEC), she said during the news conference.
Robertson told ENS September 22 that "the Presiding Bishop's office is
communicating regularly with a group of leaders in the Diocese of
Pittsburgh who, despite holding diverse opinions and positions, are
committed to remaining in the Episcopal Church."
In the letter to Duncan which accompanied the sentence, Jefferts
Schori noted "the prayerful and thoughtful atmosphere of the
discussions" leading up to the bishops' authorization of the deposition.
"In their deliberations at the special session last week, the House of
Bishops was clear that this action is based on Robert Duncan's actions
and statements to facilitate the departure of congregations out of the
Episcopal Church," Robertson told ENS. "This was not based on Robert
Duncan's theological position." Duncan has taken a conservative stance
on such issues as church attitudes toward homosexuality.
The Title IV Review Committee had certified in December that Duncan
had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church under the terms of
Canon IV.9.1 "by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or
Worship of this Church."
The Presiding Bishop moved to inhibit Duncan (restrict his episcopal
acts) during the time between the certification and the time she
brought the matter to a meeting of the house. However, the House's
three senior bishops could not agree unanimously with Jefferts
Schori's request. The canon on abandonment does not call for a formal
trial, as do the disciplinary canons.
John H. Lewis, Duncan's attorney, said in a September 18 statement
that was posted on the diocese's website September 22, that Duncan
"was denied his fundamental right -- the right to a church trial
because the Presiding Bishop believes that his 'deposition' will
assist her in her desire to seize the property of the Diocese of
-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media
correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends,
as well as news of the dioceses of Province II. She is based in
Neptune, New Jersey, and New York City.