Episcopal hierarchy alive and well! (Response to “Anglican Curmudgeon”)

As part of my Episcopal Church blogging, I was sent a link to A.S. Haley’s (“Anglican Curmudgeon”)’s in depth analysis to whether the various dioceses of the Episcopal Church USA (“PECUSA” [or “TEC”]) had ever agreed to be bound by the rules of the Episcopal Church.

For my non-Episcopalian readers, the U.S. Episcopal Church is divided up into some 95 territorial regions called “dioceses”. [The original dioceses were organized in some form before 1789 (when the U.S. Constitution came into effect) as parts of the Church of England. sometime after 1789, the same year that the current Constitution of America came into effect. In 1789, these dioceses came together as “the Protestant Episcopal Church”.]

More of the ecclesiastical Cook’s Tour of this: “hierarchical polity” refers to the concept that the lower organization (a parish, a local diocese) is bound by rules formulated at the national level.

[An important distinction that A.S. Haley makes is that he believes the former Church of England dioceses coming together as PECUSA dioceses was not for the purpose of constituting a national hierarchy which would bind and govern them by agreed-upon rules. Which to me, just flies in the face of all solid evidence about why PECUSA even organized itself in 1789. And it also sets up a word game about the usage of the term “hierarchical polity”, which really grew out of the 19th century case of the U.S. Supreme Court, Watson v. Jones.

The denomination did not use the term “hierarchical polity” to describe itself because the term arose later, describing the organization of, coincidentally, a churches like PECUSA. They had higher, rule-making organs within them, and so therefore, a hierarchy.

All the facts about PECUSA as a religious organization led the U.S. Supreme Court to conclude that PECUSA was hierarchical, and so under the Constitution, courts are required to defer to the rules of the rule-making body and presumably also honor those legitimately-enacted and civilly lawful rules in the courts.]

What Haley is saying, here, is that a large number of the dioceses never specifically acceded to (agreed to bound by) the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. He breaks it out into three categories:

1) Ones that show no express evidence that they agreed to the Constitution and Canons;

2) Ones that have language showing they agreed to the Constitution;

3) Ones that have language showing that they agreed to the Constitution and Canons.

This is a bit of a lawyers’ game. Haley assumes that in order to be bound by a national governing structure (hierarchy), a diocese must first expressly agree to be subject to the rules of the hierarchy. For him, there is no implied assent. For example, if you get on a bus at the bus stop, you are agreeing to pay the fare, whether or not you made a statement at the outset that you are forming a contract with the bus company.

Most of the dioceses that Haley lists as non-acceding are in states where the state statutes themselves define and regulate what the denomination a parish corporation is considered part of. Like New York, for example. In New York, creating a parish corporation under Article 3 makes you a Protestant Episcopal Church and subject to that denomination’s canons, whether you like the idea or not. The “accession” is part of the state law itself when the incorporators go to register the group.

Many of the other “non acceding” dioceses are in the South, which as you know has its own quirky history about any organization based in the North telling it what to do. The rest are overseas where the U.S. Constitution issues would not even apply.

In the second category, it’s hard to understand where a diocese’s acceding to the Constitution would mean they don’t accede to the Canons. It’s like a state agreeing to the U.S. Constitution but not any of the laws passed by Congress. It seems to me that if you agree to be bound by a constitution, then you agree to be bound by the rules coming out the rule-making body created by the constitution. I imagine you could reserve powers, but I think you’d have to spell that out.

If you don’t accede to the canons, have you really even acceded to the constitution? I think that’s the real question, and it’s obvious it’s silly. “We agree to the rule-making body, but not to the rules that they make”.

In the third category, Haley places all the dioceses that used the express language that he says is required. But for all we know, these were simply the dioceses that were formed at a later time, when the phrase “constitutions and canons” was more prevalent in the denomination. It’s not really clear that anyone would have to accept Haley’s definition, that the Category Three dioceses were acceding to additional governance beyond what Category Two did.

I like the later piece about the budget tricks going on within the Episcopal Church headquarters, (nicknamed “815” for its address in New York.) The national church is trying to hide spending over a million a year on lawyers through budget manipulations.

But I tend to wonder that part of the multi-millions spent are the result of the ever-expanding theories put forth about religious society law . . .