Presiding Bishop inhibits Fort Worth bishop

Episcopal News Service. November 24, 2008 [112408-02]

Mary Frances Schjonberg

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on November 21 inhibited Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker for abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church.

In the text of the inhibition, the Presiding Bishop wrote that "I hereby inhibit the said Bishop Iker and order that from and after 5:00 CST Friday, November 21, 2008, he cease from exercising the gifts of the ordained ministry of this Church; and pursuant to Canon IV.15, I order him from and after that time to cease all 'Episcopal, ministerial, and canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of Fort Worth,' until this Inhibition is terminated pursuant to Canon IV.9(2) or superseded by decision of the House of Bishops."

Jefferts Schori acted the day after the Title IV Review Committee certified that Iker had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.

Upper South Carolina Bishop Dorsey Henderson, review committee chair, told Jefferts Schori that the nine-member committee had met November 20 and that a majority agreed that the documentation provided to them "demonstrated that Bishop Iker has abandoned the communion of this Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of this Church."

To issue the inhibition, Jefferts Schori needed, in accordance with Title IV, Canon 9, Sec. 1, the consent of the three senior bishops of the church with jurisdiction (as opposed to being retired or not in diocesan seats). She noted in the inhibition that Leo Frade of Southeast Florida, Peter Lee of Virginia, and Don Wimberly of Texas gave their consents November 20.

"As the Presiding Bishop has said before, it is always sad when some feel the need to depart," Canon to the Presiding Bishop Charles Robertson told ENS November 24. "What the inhibition does is to make clear what is now, by the bishop's choice, a reality."

In jointly issued statements November 24, Iker and the Fort Worth Standing Committee rejected what it called Jefferts Schori's "attempted inhibition" of the bishop.

"Katharine Jefferts Schori has no authority over me or my ministry as a Bishop in the Church of God," Iker said. "She never has, and she never will."

The Standing Committee said it regrets "this illegal, unconstitutional, and uncanonical attempt to interfere with the rights and ministry of a diocese of another province of the Anglican Communion" and called upon Jefferts Schori "to desist from any further actions in our diocese and that she refrain from any further border crossing."The ten-member governing board of the Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians said it was "heartened" by Jefferts Schori's inhibition of Iker.

"This is a sad time for those who have faithfully followed their bishop, and we hold them close in prayer, as we do [Bishop] Iker," the steering committee said. "We assure Episcopalians that the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth remains a constituent part of the Episcopal Church under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and will continue to carry out the mission of the Episcopal Church, which is to reconcile the world to God though Jesus Christ. We will welcome home any who wish to return to the Episcopal Church."

The committee represents about seven groups and an estimated 8,000 communicants from among at least 17 of the diocese's 56 congregations, including two major Fort Worth parishes, All Saints Episcopal Church and Trinity Episcopal Church, according to the Rev. Canon Courtland Moore, committee co-chair.

The Review Committee said in its certificate that it was first asked by the Presiding Bishop in late August to consider whether Iker had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. It reviewed documentation that accompanied that request, along with additional information sent in September and October.

The committee acted after the diocesan convention voted November 15 to leave the Episcopal Church and to align with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The decision came at Iker's urging, including his "10 Reasons Why Now is the Time to Realign."

In all, the committee reviewed nearly 70 pages of material. The first submission in August said Jefferts Schori found "problematic because they reveal concrete steps take by Bishop Iker that demonstrate his persistent position that the Diocese may choose whether or not to remain a constituent part of the Episcopal Church, a choice that it does not have the authority to make under the Church's constitution; his conviction that the Diocese has not other choice than to depart from the Episcopal Church; and his intention to lead the Diocese out of the Church and into affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone."

Iker now has 60 days to recant his position or make a "good faith denial" of the acts described in the certification, according to the terms set out in Title IV, Canon 9, Sec. 2. He can also renounce his orders by way of Title IV, Canon 8, Sec. 2 or Title III, Canon 12, Sec. 7.

The House of Bishops next meets March 13-18 and Jefferts Schori could ask its permission to depose Iker. It has previously given its required approval to the deposition of former Diocese of San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield and former Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan. Those depositions came after both bishops led efforts to realign their dioceses with the Southern Cone.

The first section of Title IV, Canon 9 says that a bishop abandons the communion of the Episcopal Church if he or she takes one of the following actions:

  • open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of the Church;
  • formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same; or
  • exercising episcopal acts [which include primarily Holy Orders and Confirmation] in and for a religious body other than the Episcopal Church or another Church in communion with the Church so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in this Church.

A November 16 handout meant to be distributed in the diocese's parishes claimed that "we have realigned with another Province of the Anglican Communion. This is a change in affiliation, not a change in worship or doctrine." Iker was due to meet with diocesan clergy November 24 to discuss "Moving Forward -- Life After TEC," according to the handout.

In his convention address prior to the realignment vote on November 15, Iker said that he expected an attempt to depose him and the clergy who support his agenda. He said that if he was deposed, it would mean not that he was "un-ordained" but simply deprived of exercising his ordained ministry within the Episcopal Church.

However, he told the convention that deposition would be an "unreasonable and uncharitable" response and one that "violates our ecclesiological understanding of what the Anglican Communion claims to be."

"If we are a worldwide communion of provinces who share a common faith, practice and ministry, then it does not make sense to depose clergy who move from one province to another," Iker argued. "No one is abandoning the communion of the church by realigning with another province. The far better way to proceed would be for TEC to accept the fact that a realignment has occurred, to recognize the transfer of this diocese to another province of the Anglican Communion, and to wish us well in the name of the Lord."

The 2007-2009 Title IV Review Committee consists of Bishop Suffragan David C. Jones of Virginia, Bishop C. Wallis Ohl Jr. of Northwest Texas, Bishop Suffragan Bavi E. Rivera of Olympia, Bishop James Waggoner of Spokane, 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, in addition to Henderson.