S.C. Diocese: Bishops accusers mystery
The conservative Diocese of South Carolina said Wednesday its bishop, Mark Lawrence, is being accused of abandoning the Episcopal Church in a process that doesn’t allow him to know his accusers.
But the president of a national church board looking into the matter says those names will be made known to him if the panel decides there is abandonment.
Lawrence was recently contacted by the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops. He was told that, based on information from churchgoers in the diocese, it is investigating whether he has abandoned the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church.
The Diocese of South Carolina has distanced itself from the national Episcopal Church in part because of the national body’s stance on ordaining gay bishops and sanctioning same-sex unions.
Bishop Dorsey Henderson, president of the disciplinary board, said Wednesday that if the panel decides there is abandonment, Lawrence will be given the names of those who raised the issue. “It is at that procedural point that the bishop responds to the certification of abandonment, and it is at that point the bishop certainly deserves to know the identities of those providing the initial information,” Henderson said.
He added there are no charges now against Lawrence and the investigation is simply that. He said that while Lawrence has not asked for the names, there is no provision in church law for releasing them at this point. About 100 clergy from the diocese in the lower and eastern parts of the state met Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss the allegations and procedures to investigate.
“Based on what has happened in other dioceses, a deposition of the bishop would be followed by attacks on the diocese and the parishes. The picture painted was an ugly one of expensive litigation, confrontation and acrimony in which all involved significantly lost,” the diocese said Wednesday in a statement.
The diocesan statement said the Episcopal Church “is in a constitutional crisis” and has no structure for resolving fundamental differences.
“The question is not whether we can stay; it is whether they will let us stay and follow what we believe,” the Rev. Jeffery Miller, a past president of the diocesan standing committee, said during the meeting. Standing Committees advise bishops and consent to the election of bishops, approve candidates for ordination and handle the fiscal affairs of a diocese.
Lawrence has said repeatedly it is not his intention for the diocese to leave the Episcopal Church. The letter from the disciplinary board mentioned, among other things, that it was given information that the South Carolina diocese had eliminated mention of the national church in the diocesan charter purpose statement and passed a resolution that the local diocese is a “sovereign diocese.” The letter also said that Lawrence had done nothing to stop local parishes seeking to leave the Episcopal church.
The proceedings against Lawrence would be the first under revised disciplinary rules the local diocese earlier opposed, said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the diocese.