Clergy removed from ordained ministry in Episcopal Church
More than 100 South Carolina clergy have been notified that they have been removed from the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church and are “deprived of the right to exercise... the gifts and spiritual authority conferred in ordination.”
“Notice of Removal” letters signed by the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg, Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, were issued this week to individuals who are “canonically resident” in the diocese, meaning they are under the authority of Bishop vonRosenberg within The Episcopal Church.
Many of those affected by the removal have publicly announced that they are no longer affiliated with the church, and have aligned themselves with a breakaway group led by Mark Lawrence. Bishop Lawrence was removed from the ordained ministry in December 2012, and is no longer recognized as a bishop in The Episcopal Church.
In the hope of an eventual reconciliation, Bishop vonRosenberg exercised an option available to him under the Constitution and Canons of the church, and “released and removed” the affected clergy, rather than allowing them to be “deposed” on the grounds of abandonment of the church.
While both actions result in the loss of authority to act as ordained ministers, being released and removed allows options for a person to return to the ministry of The Episcopal Church, something that would be more difficult for clergy who have been deposed.
All the affected clergy were sent a “Notice of Restriction” at the end of June, informing them that they were restricted from acting as ordained ministers. The standing committee voted June 21 to determine that the clergy had abandoned the church, triggering the restriction. At that point, the restricted clergy had 60 days “to transmit to the bishop a retraction or denial, indicating your intention to abide by the promises made at ordination.” Those promises include the declaration, “I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.”
The bishop could have allowed the 60 days to expire, and clergy who had not responded would have been deposed. Instead, on Aug. 13 the standing committee held a special meeting and unanimously approved the Bishop’s recommendation for removal. Under Title IV, Canon 16 (B), Section 4 of The Canons of The Episcopal Church, the action required the advice and consent of the Standing Committee.
The Notice of Removal specifically states that the bishop “is satisfied that no previous irregularity or misconduct is involved” and that the removal is “for causes which do not affect the person’s moral character.”
Bishop vonRosenberg and members of the standing committee have expressed sadness that the removal of clergy became necessary. The bishop attempted to contact all the clergy of the diocese beginning in April, sending letters by certified mail and offering to meet with them personally to talk about their decision to either remain with The Episcopal Church or separate from it. The majority of the clergy in the breakaway group have chosen not to respond to the letters.
To assist the public in identifying priests and deacons who continue to be part of The Episcopal Church in this region of South Carolina, a list of Clergy in Good Standing is available on the diocesan website: http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/clergy-in-good-standing.html