Pennsylvania Diocese assistant chancellor [Drinker Biddle’s] Mary Kohart (Part II)

Last one on this for a while.

As I was saying yesterday, I sense that Diocese of Pennsylvania assistant chancellor Mary E. Kohart is engaged in a bit of fraud, going around saying that the Diocese has full power to govern the Diocese in disregard of national canons, and that no civil court has the right to hear cases involving any of their parishes.

Let me spell out why I am saying this is wrong, and very bad.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of Virginia, that state’s highest court, put out an opinion in the case of The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church. Now, right away, if you look at the opinion you notice that the civil court did not dismiss the case out of hand. So right away, Mary Kohart is wrong.

But secondly, if you read the opinion, you come to these lines:

“The highest governing body of TEC is the triennial General Convention, which adopts TEC’s constitution and canons to which dioceses must give an ‘unqualified accession’.” (Unqualified accession is fancy language for saying that the dioceses must govern their affairs according to the national canons. They are not “optional”, to be followed if a diocese so chooses. They are the Rule.) “Each diocese is in turn governed by a Bishop and Annual Council that adopts the constitution and canons for the diocese. Each congregation within a diocese in turn is bound by the national and diocesan constitutions and canons.

I take “is bound by” to mean those are the rules that must be followed. This is not some optional thing that the Deference Rule of Watson v. Jones qualifies. Some sort of Super-Duper Deference that goes on top and cancels whatever the highest judicatory (the General Convention) has already decided are the rules for the denomination.

What Mary Kohart is doing is making one of these dog-chasing-its-tail arguments. She’s saying that even though the clear evidence is that if you want to know the rules of the denomination, you look at the little book from General Convention, for practical purposes, Super-Duper deference means that a local Diocese can ignore these rules and a civil court must just sit on its hands.

That’s nonsense. And obviously, lawyers don’t get to argue that in Virginia, which, last I checked, is one of the states of the United States.

If you’re sticking up for the rules of a denomination, I hardly see that as, ehem, “troublemaking”. The troublemakers sound like the people who won’t adhere to what had already been decided, and concoct fanciful legal doctrines, like Super-Duper Deference, that fly in the face of what the high courts throughout the land have already decided.

But then again, I’m not a partner of a law firm making money off denominational strife, so maybe you need to be to be seeing it some other way. To me, it just looks like fraud.

[Update: She is now Mary Kohart of Elliott Greenleaf, and Chancellor of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. No clear story on why she left Drinker.]