Fort Worth bishop responds to warning letter from Jefferts Schori

Episcopal News Service. November 12, 2007 [111207-02]

Jan Nunley

In a letter dated November 12, Fort Worth Bishop Jack Leo Iker declared, "I have abandoned nothing, and I have violated no canons," in response to a warning earlier this month from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the consequences if he continued to encourage his diocese to attempt to withdraw from the Episcopal Church.

Iker said he was "rather surprised by [Jefferts Schori's] suggestion that I have somehow abandoned the communion of the church and may be subject to ecclesiastical discipline. Such a charge is baseless."

"Your statements and actions in recent months demonstrate an intention to lead your diocese into a position that would purportedly permit it to depart from the Episcopal Church," wrote Jefferts Schori to Iker on November 8. "…If your course does not change, I shall regrettably be compelled to see that appropriate canonical steps are promptly taken to consider whether you have abandoned the Communion of this Church -- by actions and substantive statements, however, they may be phrased -- and whether you have committed canonical offences that warrant disciplinary action."

In his reply, Iker termed Jefferts Schori's letter "highly inappropriate" and "threatening," and claimed that it "appears designed to intimidate" delegates to the diocesan convention.

"I must remind you that 25 years ago this month, the newly formed Diocese of Fort Worth voluntarily voted to enter into union with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church," Iker said. "If circumstances warrant it, we can likewise, by voluntary vote, terminate that relationship."

Fort Worth's diocesan convention meets November 16-17 to consider the first reading of a constitutional amendment that would remove accession to the Constitution and Canons of General Convention, as well as several canonical amendments that eliminate mention of the Episcopal Church.

Iker has publicly endorsed the changes and declared his intention to separate the Fort Worth diocese from the Episcopal Church.

In an October 20, 2007 address to the Forward in Faith International Assembly in London, a recording of which is available on the group's website, Iker stated that the three Forward in Faith dioceses -- Fort Worth, San Joaquin, and Quincy -- intend to leave the Episcopal Church by 2009.

"There are three Forward in Faith dioceses in the United States, and the three bishops of those dioceses have come to a common conclusion that we have no future in the Episcopal Church," Iker reported to the London meeting. "Our conventions in those three dioceses, Fort Worth, Quincy, and San Joaquin, will be taking constitutional action to separate officially from TEC. Because it is a constitutional change, it must be passed at two successive annual conventions."

On the recording, Iker continued: "…Our plan is not only to disassociate, then, from the Episcopal Church, but to officially, constitutionally re-affiliate with an existing orthodox province of the communion that does not ordain women to the priesthood. These conversations are very far along but cannot be announced until the province that is considering our appeal has made their final decision public."

The first of several letters warning bishops of the consequences of attempted secession was sent to Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh on October 31. Despite the letter, a canonical change removing accession to the Episcopal Church's constitution and canons was approved on first reading by Pittsburgh's diocesan convention November 2-3. In December, the Diocese of San Joaquin is scheduled to hear the second and final reading of a similar amendment.

The Presiding Bishop could ask the Title IV Review Committee to consider whether the bishops supporting those constitutional changes have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. If the committee agreed that abandonment had taken place, the bishops would have two months to recant before the matter went to the full House of Bishops. If the House concurred, the Presiding Bishop could depose the bishops and declare the episcopates of those dioceses vacant. There is no appeal and no right of formal trial outside of a hearing before the House of Bishops.

Members of congregations remaining in the Episcopal Church would be gathered to organize a new diocesan convention and elect a replacement Standing Committee, if necessary. An assisting bishop would be appointed until a search process could be initiated and a new bishop elected and consecrated. A lawsuit could be filed against the departed leadership and a representative sample of departing congregations if they attempted to retain Episcopal Church property.

The 2007-2009 Title IV Review Committee consists of Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina (president), Bishop Suffragan Bavi E. Rivera of Olympia, Bishop Suffragan David C. Jones of Virginia, Bishop C. Wallis Ohl Jr. of Northwest Texas, the Rev. Carolyn Kuhr of Montana, the Very Rev. Scott Kirby of Eau Claire, J.P. Causey Jr. of Virginia and Deborah J. Stokes of Southern Ohio.